It’s been a while. I didn’t intend to be gone so long. I just stepped away to do, talk, listen to others, and make sense of a few things. What a few weeks it’s been. What a time we live in. What a country this is. One can never stop learning.
I don’t know where to restart the conversation. Perhaps I should say more about this learning thing.
It’s true. If you stop learning, if you close yourself up to wondering and asking questions and listening and reading you die. That’s it. You may not know it, but life without learning is as good as death. When one stop learning, growth too stops.
Take for instance this question of democracy. Is South Africa a better place for black people because of democracy?
We are told that democracy is good for development. It is clearly not always so, not for the majority of South Africans at the moment. It seems that there are times when democracy means the ideas of the dominant, those with voices, who have access to resourcs already, who can speak the language, govern society to the detriment of those without voices.
Could we then not have development, or as the African National Congress election pay-off line parses it, ‘a better life for all’, under a different system? You can call it social democracy, democratic centralism, Cuban democracy, communalism, communism, nationalisation, or socialism if you like. It does not matter what it’s called so long as all children, men and women live a healthy, productive, happy and fullfilling life.
The fact is, in South Africa, and many parts of African since independent, the promised better life is proving difficult to materialise for millions of black children, women and men. Too many young men are dying, and democracy is not protecting them. Large numbers of women are infected with HIV/Aids, and their democratically elected governments, no different from the white and black dictatorships, they are mean to undo, have not worked quick and hard enough to prevent the epidemic. A massive number of people don’t have enough to eat, while politicians in Washington, Geneva and New York, and African capitals debate human rights. Many children are being failed by the education system even while we vote every four or five years. Lost of men and women don’t have jobs, and we must ask what is the good of right.
What makes the so-called democracy so great then?
I have asked this question myself several times. And I ask again: what would you choose if you were forced to: democracy or peace; human rights or decent employment?
It’s an untenable choice, of course. But a version of this confronts many people in Africa and the world, while all the time they sweat and build the soccer stadia in Qatar, try to smuggle themselves into Europe, or in the aftermath of the terrorist blasts in Kenya and Nigeria.
Those who are lucky to live in countries, cities, and neighbourhoods relatively secured from crime, terrorists, those who can afford good housing, have meaningful work, enough to eat, money to send the kids to well-functioning schools, well-running public transportation system or cars will rebel against such a forced choice.
And yet the truth is many people don’t have a choice. They don’t have a voice. They have to give up one thing or another to survive from year to year, leave something behind to be able to build some kind of future for themselves and their families. Their rights, their families, their husbands, wives, children, and loves; or their passports, their aspirations, their friends, and childhoods. Something gives.
A large number of these people without voice or choice tend to come from Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Egypt, Lybia. and many other African countries; Indonesia, India, China (yes, China), Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Palestine, and many other parts of the global South.
This dilemma of having to choose between human rights and jobs was articulated by Moiz Iqbal. He is a 24-year old Pakistani accountancy student. He was asked for his views earlier this year in March about the return of the former dictator Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan after more than four years in self-imposed stay-away in Dubai and London. Pakistan was about to hold a historic general election in May. It would be the first time one democratically elected government would take over after a free and fair democratic poll.
This is what Igbal told Jon Boone: ‘It doesn’t matter if we are a democracy or a dictatorship as long as we have peace, employment and a good economy’ (Mail and Guardian, March 28 to April 4, 2013, ‘It’s me, Musharraf, remember’).
What does he know, he is just a young man of colour who lives in a god-forsaken part of the world, right?
And yet Pakistan continues to be troubled by violence, a playground for men with big guns and differing ideologies about how to run the world and Pakistan.
If you were living in a place like that, if you lived with insecurity from day to day, what would choose?
Perhaps, democracy is not a necesary and sufficient condition for a better life. At times, it seems it is development for all that is good for democracy.
What I would choose is democracy by the people, for the people. It can but it should not be an empty slogan. What it means is food for everybody. Jobs and health and education for all. Policies that are not meant to serve the interests of one class or party.
Is that possible? Yes it is. Because it means choosing ourselves as our own leaders.