Judgment is a double-edged sword


14 June 2020

While many welcomed a decision by the Constitutional Court this week to allow independent candidates to contest for provincial, national and even the presidential seat, the judgement, it would seem, is a double-edged sword for our democracy.

To the extent that the independent candidates will help increase the number of people partaking in the elections, on account of increased choices of potential leaders, this is a welcome shot in the arm for democracy.

We must also agree, at the outset, with Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga that any Tom who fancies themselves enamoured to serve ought correctly to be allowed.

And there will be many, not really imbued with the selfless spirit to serve, but seeking access and control of the national till.

Madlanga waxed lyrical when explaining the limitations of the current system.

“It [political party-based system] may be too trammelling to those who are averse to control, it may be overly restrictive to the free spirited, it may be censoring to those who are loathe to be straightjacketed by pre-determined party decisions. It just may at times detract from the idea of a free self,” notes Madlanga.

It does not follow, however, that because the current system is flawed, the suggested solution is a panacea for our democratic system.

The opening of the gates will immediately make it possible for those with large pockets to fund their candidates of choice. Money, as it were, is the source of many of our political ills.

The very idea of a state capture has its roots in the corrupting power of money on our politics.

The opening of the gates also means big corporates who used to donate funds to political parties may now choose to sponsor popular, if not populist, independent candidates who fancy a stab at the

Where a president is from a party that does not enjoy majority in parliament, as is often the case in the US, the country will suffer a paralysis of governance that could make a mockery of our ability to choose a leader.

Given the incidence of crime in the country, some populists may use emotive subjects like the “death penalty” without worrying about debating the legalities within the confines of party policy conferences.

But a look at democracies where the populace is able to vote for its president directly reveals that they are still dominated by political parties.

Even a self-absorbed politician like Donald Trump, despite his billions, still needed the Republican Party machinery behind him to become the president of the US.

While parliament has 24 months to give effect to the judgment, there are too many unknowns about the future for any celebrations about the decision.

We agree with the Constitutional Court judge that “given the importance of political rights within the South African context and the far-reaching implications that these rights have on the right to human dignity, these rights must be interpreted generously rather than restrictively”.

We add, however, that any celebration based on the implications of this
judgment as a victory for democracy may be a tad too premature.



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