“DEMOCRACY”… A WORD UNDERSTOOD BY FEW BUT SAID BY MANY
By: Zama Andisa Ngcoya
There seems to be a great deal of confusion in society as to what the term democracy truly means, it is heard almost daily but understood by few.
Finding the definition of democracy proved to be quite a challenge but Google defined democracy as “A state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges.”
South Africa gave birth to a democratic country when more than 17 million black South Africans over the age of 18 were given the opportunity to cast their votes for the first time in the first all-race elections over a four day period from April 26 to April 29 in 1994.
For most, standing in a queue that stretched for kilometers and waiting for up to 12 hours to cast their ballots was not in vain. Those who stood in line understood how much of a privilege it was to appear on the voters roll, taking into account the number of lives that had been sacrificed in order for them to be free.
“I am not a morning person, but on April the 26th 1994, I was up before sunrise. I was very eager to cast my vote but when I saw the long line of people at the voting station, I almost turned back but my dream of a bright future for my unborn child wouldn’t allow me to. I asked my husband to bring a chair for me and I sat and waited in the slow moving line for a long time until my turn finally came.” Said Sizakele Didi (54), one of many black South
African women who cast their vote in the year 1994 and later gave birth to a born free in the very same year.
For many parents, giving birth in the year 1994 was considered a blessing. This meant that basic opportunities such as fair and equal education for all, adequate infrastructure and better working opportunities which were not afforded to their generation, would be available for their children. These children, the “born frees”, would get a chance to shape their futures and hopefully make a success of their lives.
In 1995, South Africa adopted a constitution that guaranteed both civil and political rights and social and economic rights. These rights, however, have been interpreted in different ways by the youth of today. Some have done so in a manner that is encouraging and contributes to a brighter future for them. For some, in a manner that one would consider unacceptable to society, all in the name of democracy.
This reminds one of the famous phrase uttered by Tomaas Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakian advocate of democracy- “democracy has its faults, because people have their faults. Like owner, like store.”
Maxine Kok (20), a born free said that the whole idea of democracy has been tarnished by the youth.
“When our struggle heroes, your Nelson Mandela’s, Steve Biko’s and many other fallen heroes fought for a democratic nation, they did not fight for a nation where one is absolutely free to do as they please and not take into account the consequences of their actions. Their idea of a democratic country was one in which all ethnic groups lived in peace and in tolerance of one another in all corners of the nation.
They dreamt of a country where everyone succeeded through working together and exploited every opportunity handed to them. With the youth of today dying every day, getting arrested for crimes of all sort and leaving school, the visions of our icons have faded and the future looks bleak.”
Thabo Moeketsi (20), on the other hand had a rather different opinion of what democracy means to him.
“For me democracy means doing what you want and speaking your mind, just as long as your actions do not affect the next person. As far as I am concerned, I have every right to act recklessly because I am the one to face the consequences of my actions. That is the kind of democracy our heroes fought for.”
It is quite evident that democracy has not a single definition to which everyone will agree upon. The manner in which the youth chooses to exercise their democratic right is absolutely up to them. At the end of the day, it all boils down to ethics, morals, values and wisdom.