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As I see things – Reflections on politics

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Politics, more pointedly, the up-coming election, has totally taken over our lives, consuming a large part of our time. Everywhere there is political talk, but no real political dialogue or even serious reflection on the consequence of the choices we make and our responsibilities as citizens. We do not really take this as seriously as we should. We have always to remember that our parents and grandparents fought for the right for us to vote.{{more}} Before the advent of Adult Suffrage in 1951, only those with a certain amount of land or high income could vote. Even when our colonial masters acquiesced to the demand fought for by labour and the black and coloured middle class, they sought to attach a rider, limiting their rights based on a certain degree of literacy. Although members of his own party were prepared to accept this condition, George McIntosh fought stubbornly against it, for it meant putting a condition on Adult Suffrage which made it meaningless. Today, we have come to take it for granted and do not treat this right with the seriousness that is needed.

I have always found it strange, maybe even crazy, that when we elect individuals to Parliament and to be part of any government, we pay little attention to their track record. In other words we do not take into consideration what they did before; what role they played as ordinary citizens – their work, involvement in affairs of the country, the way they relate to others and the responsibilities they held. Do their track records give any indication of the type of persons they are likely to be if and when they assume office and power? A track record should reflect the nature of the political beasts we sometimes bestow with a certain amount of power.

Power is a simple word, but it has critical importance where politics is concerned. Not many people know how to deal with power. Power carries with it a sense of responsibility, but this is often forgotten as we succumb to the temptation to corruption that comes with it. This is where the test of the individuals becomes important. Do their track records give us any indication as to how they are likely to act when provided with the power that we give them? In the context of politics in a democracy, power really means authority, because we, the people, meaning the electorate, give them authority to act on our behalf. But they completely and deliberately misread this and interpret it to mean absolute power. When called again to renew or remove that mandate, they use the power which we invested in them to convince us that whatever they did was on our behalf. They attempt to transform themselves to show how much they worked because they loved us. Unfortunately, many of us surrender and accept their definition that our rights are only about possessing the freedom to vote when called upon to do so.

We become the ‘darkened theatre audience,’ as Gordon Lewis describes it. The politicians in control have become actors on stage and the people part of an audience where the light is turned off as we look at them performing. We are mentally tuned in to comedies, as can be seen with any of our dramatic performances where people laugh at moments when they are not expected to. It has to do with how seriously we reflect on what is happening on stage, our understanding of what is happening and how critically we view what is happening and our failure to accept that we should be an essential part of that happening.

We sometimes express disapproval with what our actors are doing and vow to vote them out next time around, but they understand this and try to bring about a transformation as they prepare for the battle for our minds and souls. In fact, sometimes the supposed transformation is so drastic that some of us do not recognize them and misread their effort to fool us. We hear and see on the television networks demonstrations all over, as people make their voices heard. Not so with us. Our democracy demands an alert and informed public, the product of an active and responsible media, non-governmental groupings that represent different elements in the society, particularly labour, youth, women and the Church. We fall short with these. We live in a secular society, formulated on Christian principles. The Church we therefore expect to be the conscience of the nation, guided by those Christian principles that they purport to preach, although often looking at them outside of the context of the society in which they function.

Things are so confused these days and the Church is part of that confusion, as politicians play to our fear of God, quoting the Bible in an effort to convince us that they are one with the Lord and do what he manifests, while the Church remains silent. We have, with all of this, developed different expectations of how politicians should act and behave. Our silence on serious issues gives politicians the green light to play their own games and to adopt an agenda that benefits them and their hangers-on. We have with all of this, to accept that as individuals in a democracy we have the right and responsibility to support any party or individual we care to. But the reasons behind our support demand serious self-examination, since often it is about self and not country; about who could best satisfy their individual needs, needs often interpreted to mean wants, and our failure to see behind the masks. (To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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