I lost faith in
democracy during a 4-hour staff meeting on a Friday afternoon about whether the
school should ring one or two bells at the start of the school day, says Susan Erasmus.
It was 1986, it was mid-summer and boiling, and every single
one of the 76 teachers felt that they had a duty to make their voice heard.
Even if they were making the same point over and over, and the occasion was
actually used to settle old scores of a more personal nature. And the issue
itself was of absolutely no consequence whatsoever.
By the end of the meeting I was not only no longer a fan of
democracy, but I was also in favour of the death penalty – as long as I could
act as executioner.
The staff meeting ended in chaos, and no decision was taken.
It has left me in a bit of a conundrum for the last 28
years: I fervently believe in human rights (but also responsibilities) and
dedicated years of my life to working in township educational institutions. This
has made me fond of many individuals, but no more fond of democracy as a
I know this is not a popular viewpoint, and I expect to be
roasted in the comment boxes, but I am prepared to ride it out. I do not agree
with the Latin saying Vox populi, vox dei
– the voice of the people is the voice of God. You only have to look at human history to
realise the folly of that.
What else is there?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not in favour of tyrannical rule,
or apartheid (but then I repeat myself), or hereditary rule, or communism, or
pure socialism. But I am, for the benefits of this column, going to afford
myself the luxury of criticising democracy without suggesting an alternative.
Every year the state of the nation address leaves me
perplexed and feeling despondent. It’s the same promises, the same misguided
pride (guys, increasing the number of people on social grants is not a reason
to applaud – it’s a sign of failure, not of success), it looks like the same
suit, in fact, it sounds like the very same speech. Would anyone notice if it
The real issues never really get addressed: the exorbitant
prices of food, overpopulation, the education crisis, millions of
asylum-seekers, tax evasion, the housing crisis, the crisis in state
Is the majority
But then this is my basic problem with democracy: those who
get voted in by majority votes, can never afford to make prudent financial and
political long-term decisions that would make them unpopular and jeopardise
their re-election. Democracy encourages short-sightedness and self-interest and
greed. A bit like unbridled capitalism.
People who cut social grants never get in for a second term.
But no state can continue paying out more money than it receives. That is,
however, not the problem of the career politician. His/her goal is re-election,
not long-term sustainable strategies. So the debt gets passed onto the next
government and so on and so on.
We are seeing the worldwide effect of this debt being passed
from generation to generation. The US has to keep borrowing more, and many EU
countries, notably Greece, Spain and Italy are in serious trouble.
While I am definitely in favour of everyone having a say, I
cannot say that the majority is always right. You only have to look at juries
in the US, who have convicted many innocent people. Just because the majority
of the population believed in the 1500s that the earth was flat, it didn’t mean
that it was. Sometimes the majority is right, and sometimes it isn’t. Scary
Benjamin Franklin said that democracy was ‘two wolves and a
lamb voting on what to have for lunch’. That might be an extreme example, but
it does make a point.
But what else is there? I don’t know. I can’t think of any
other system that would be more fair. Or less flawed. Maybe the last word
belongs to Churchill from a House of Commons speech in 1947:
"Democracy is the
worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried
from time to time."
Susan Erasmus is a freelance writer for Health24.