Democracy is a loose term. It can mean different things to different people. It is a loaded word and has been used and abused to promote ideologies and organisations of all types. Heck, even North Korea considers itself a democracy!
The word democracy comes from Greek and means 'rule by the people.' See why it is a loose term? 'Rule by the people' can mean a variety of different things. Today when we speak about democracy we are usually referring to representative democracy, where we choose leaders in elections who are supposed to represent our interests. Great! So different groups of people with different interests elect leaders, so that everyone is represented in the government and those leaders sit and have big discussions so that the country is run in the way that is best for everyone.
The first problem is that here in South Africa government doesn't make decisions by discussion and compromise. It makes decisions by voting and the vote is won by a simple majority (excepting of course for amendments to the constitution.) So if a party has 51% of MPs, that party holds all the power. And since the number of MPs is proportional to the number of votes, 51% of the voters can effectively control the lives of the other 49%, given how much power the government has over individuals in our country.
The next problem is that only 16 million of our 55 million population votes, which effectively means that just over 8 million people can control the lives of the other 47 million. I'm sure most of you are starting to see a problem here.
Now the nature of our ruling party makes the above problem much worse. Most of the country votes blindly for the ANC. They are almost guaranteed to win the elections no matter what. The ANC has over 700 000 members, organised into about 5000 branches. There are about 500 other voting delegates at elective conferences, but for simplicity's sake we will assume there are 5000 branch delegates who vote to elect the ANC leadership and thus their MP's. Each delegate needs 51% of his branch vote, and each ANC leader needs 51% of the delegates' votes. This means, that in the extreme situation 26% of ANC members can choose the party's leadership,and thus the path the country will follow. Doing the maths, that's less than 200 000 people determining the destiny of more than 55 million.
These calculations are both rough and simplified, but they illustrate just how few people are making the decisions that we are supposed to be making as a nation. And even then, we are still assuming that these elected leaders act according to the will of the people who elected them.
I know this has been a bombardment of figures and statistics, so let me make a final point for those who don't really care for numbers. Our situation is summed up very well by looking at the times of greatest political change. With Jacob Zuma about to be ousted after years of controversial and morally bereft leadership, it is clear that more change in the country comes out of the ANC elective conference than any other occasion, including the national elections. That is not democracy.
Thus we see that in spite of the endless propaganda bragging about our democratic ideals, South Africa is not really a democracy at all. But then what is a true democracy? The Greeks didn't just give us the word democracy, they gave us the whole concept. In part 2 I will explain, referring to the ancient Greek model, how we can have a real democracy.