August 15, 2020

Media and Citizenship

Mellon Project Focus Area

The political landscape has become more about elite individuals than the population!

Jacob Zuma
Jacob G Zuma


Individual politicians have taken centre stage of the political landscape by claiming their stake of the pie and abandoning the political project of serving a society with a broken history. One doesn’t need to go far to see how the EFF has centred on Julius Malema, the ANC on Zuma and the DA on Hellen Zille with a foreground of Mmusi Maimane. Mpho Ramakatsa, Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala   recently arranged a press briefing arguing that the EFF is at the mercy of Malema and that they were abolishing any abuse of power among all political parties. The ideologies, plans and intentions of the political parties in general, at least to the majority of citizens, have become of secondary importance. I don’t think this is entirely a loss, because it has a sound foundation.

The foundation for ideologies and intentions and not taking centre stage is the fascination with political individuals, which for me marks two concerns. Firstly I believe in the cliché saying that says the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so whilst their intentions might be brilliant on paper or relevant, it is the individual members who constitute a political party that will need the necessary capacity to carry out the ‘good intentions’.

My second and most important concern about this spotlight thrust on individuals and this mode of politicking is that we lose an opportunity to critically engage the ideas that shape our society whilst worrying about who will get to shape our society. Parliament recently became a mess with the president failing to respond to recommendations made by the public protector to ‘pay back the money’ spent building his homestead in Nkandla. This episode resulted in members of the EFF being kicked out of parliament chambers by the police and other forces when they attempted to force the president to respond. I can only speak for myself and everyone I know who had watched this episode unfold that it was a sad day in South Africa.

Parliament has become a spectacle for individual members of parliament or political members to get even with each other. They say when elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers the most. We the people of South Africa have become almost non-existent to our political elites except as mere voting tokens. Do South Africans exist? (Chipkin, 2007) Is a question whose necessity keeps unfolding by the minute!

It seems to me that for South Africans to exist, democratic processes ought to be taken seriously as ways of enabling and empowering citizens into active political subjects beyond a mere voting token. At this stage, we are at a juncture where the state is even sabotaging  democratic processes by blocking signals in parliament and having what I deem to be poor engage in matters of state by many members of parliament, further frustrating processes.

Parliament and public dialogue among our political elites has now become a space of ridicule and inspiration for memes and stand-up comedians. We need a more vibrant civil society that will ensure that state leaders account to their constituents. South Africans need to stand up in arms to protect and improve the state of our democracy. Nelson Mandela said “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”. We need to be constantly aware, critical and self-reflective to avoid waking up one day to find that democracy has become a sailed ship.



Chipkin, I .2007. Do South Africans Exist? Nationalism, Democracy and the Identity of ‘the People’. Johannesburg. WITS University Press