Saturday, 4 January 2014

"Assessing Democracy in the New South Africa" by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

For those really interested in a reasonably objective piece on the New SA, this should be worth reading.

It is a pity the author passed away last year (July 7, 2013) as I would have loved to have a chat to him. I actually set out to find his contact detail and in my quest I discovered that he had passed away.

He presented a paper on SA in February 2002 and I would have loved the same author to update this 12 years on.

"Assessing Democracy in the New South Africa" by Robert Hamerton-Kelly

About the Author

Hamerton-Kelly was born in Cape Town, South Africa, on Dec. 26, 1938. He was a theologian, who spent more than two decades working at Stanford, including 13 years as dean of Stanford Memorial Church and 10 years as a senior research scholar in ethics.

Hamerton-Kelly earned a bachelor's degree in 1958 from Rhodes University in South Africa. He earned a second bachelor's degree in theology in 1961 and a master's degree in theology in 1965 – both at Cambridge University in England. He went on to earning a doctoral degree in theology in 1966 at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

From 1989-1997, he also taught classes on the ethics of international security and the ethics of military intervention to students in Stanford's International Relations Program.

Sidney D. Drell, the founding co-director of CISAC, emeritus professor of theoretical physics and emeritus deputy director of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, said Hamerton-Kelly provided a critically important dimension to the study of arms control at Stanford: the moral and ethical issues raised by the destructive power of nuclear weapons.

In the early 1990s, Hamerton-Kelly spent time in Central Europe, participating in activities arising out of the collapse of the Soviet empire and the realignment of Central Europe.

A brief summary of his talk on SA

Nelson Mandela created a climate of democracy in which people of several cultures and skin colors were able to leave revenge and recrimination behind and devote their energies to building a new, united and inclusive nation. He did it mostly by moral force.

At this moment, however, the moral force of those miraculous five years is dissipating in the face of severe challenges and so it is timely, at this half-way point in Mbeki’s presidency, to take stock and try to assess the current state and future prospects of this new, democratic South Africa.

We are to assess not democratic South Africa but democracy in South Africa.... and try to identify and assess its strong points, and then its weak points, and then if there is time we can together prophesy what the future might hold.

Democracy is not primarily a form of governance, it is a state of soul.

Democracy is a morality. The political bedrock of this morality is that we are to be governed by our own individual consent, which we are willing to delegate to representatives as long as they in fact represent us. If they cease to do so we retract our consent. The individual not the group is primary, and the group has power over the individual only to the extent that the individual grants it power, and that power should be limited to functions the individual cannot perform alone (John Locke).

Corruption, Violent crime, and War are major threats with a salient moral component, and even the natural disasters, like famine and plague have a moral component in their causality. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, Pestilence, Famine and Death, ride together because they belong together causally.

It has been argued that because democracy is to such a large extent a moral phenomenon, and morality is so culturally conditioned, that liberal democracy of the Anglo-American kind is culturally unsuited to Africa and that African states tend culturally to one-party rule and subsequently to tyranny.  It is hard to make this point without sounding racist, nevertheless I simply want to put it on record here as part of cultural context one might consider.

In South Africa there is much discussion of the concept of Ubuntu, which its exponents claim is a unique African social and political concept. It means that the group takes precedence over the individual, that the individual should be willing to sacrifice his/her interests to the interests of the group. This is clearly a concept not unique to Africa.

There can be no doubt that the history of RSA places a great burden on its current democracy. Apartheid distorted the shape of the economy as grotesquely as it distorted the society. So democracy in RSA has had to start from way behind the starting line and run flat out just to catch up. This is a reason for strain on the current democracy but it should not be made an excuse, as has happened in many African countries, which are still blaming European colonialism for their parlous conditions. The size of the gap between the rich and the poor in the world at large has been widening since neo-liberal economics became the vogue, and RSA is no exception to this trend.

Positive Elements in the New Democratic South Africa

A New Spirit: There was a spiritual change, and Nelson Mandela, supported by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others led the way. It was miraculous, and wonderful,
A Stable Polity: The constitution is possibly the most liberal in the sense of “politically correct” in the world, and it is works to curb the abuse of power.
International Goodwill and Willingness to Invest/
RSA has a pool of experienced and newly skilled business and technical experts.
It has rich mineral resources.
RSA is a Regional Power.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission:...achieved a marvellous catharsis for the nation. , or at least begin the process of moral healing.

Negative Elements in the New Democratic South Africa.

The new spirit is no longer as powerful and vibrant as it was.

There is a sense in which under Mandela many of the problems were postponed, concealed under a cloud of euphoria and goodwill. [This is an important point]

Political Stability should not be taken for granted. The ANC government is a coalition of the ANC proper, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), and their respective agendas are diverging. The tension among these three partners is growing and it is not clear how much longer they can be held together.

a capitalist-friendly approach, which has exacerbated the already huge unemployment problem (50% unemployment in the formal economy. The country survives on the informal economy, which does not pay taxes, which means that the ever-shrinking formal economy is taxed to death.

Government corruption is a major negative factor

International willingness to invest is diminishing. South Africa has a very expensive and relatively unskilled labor force, with very powerful unions. Combined with the looming political instability and a pitiful public health situation this is a discouraging climate for investment.

Affirmative action is draining the pool of skilled business and technical people. It deals a double whammy. Qualified people are replaced by unqualified, and seeing no future they leave the country. So you have unskilled people doing skilled jobs and the skilled people who can do those jobs emigrate. Many young people with skills... do not plan to make RSA their long term home. This kind of affirmative action may in the end be the most destructive element in RSA.

Violent Crime is an epidemic, and the affluent whites who experience it are inspired to emigrate. The good feeling of the first years is now replaced more and more by a fear of crime. The crime is very violent, criminals shooting people dead for paltry sums of money, in their own driveways, in their living rooms. The murder rate is around 70 per 10000; in the USA it is 7, in the UK 1. Only New Orleans has a rate comparable, and it is a rate normal for countries at war.

Public Health Challenges:

Aids is a devastating presence.
Drug Abuse: The Nigerian drug cartel has infiltrated RSA...
Other Diseases: The open border policy of RSA lets millions of the desperate in from the rest of Southern Africa. This causes overloading of the infrastructure, which in turn causes squatter camps to spring up and pollution related diseases like cholera to proliferate. Malaria is also increasing rapidly, throughout the region.
Child rapes, connected to traditional medicine. To cure STD’s one has sex with a virgin. Recently a 9 month old girl raped by three adult males.
Mineral resources of gold and diamonds are not as valuable as once they were and the South African economy is trying to move away from its heavy dependence on gold.


South Africa must be assessed within the context of Southern Africa as a whole. The region is not doing well. War plagues nations and plague wars against everyone. There are more factors in the region to pull RSA down than to build it up.

I believe democratic South Africa has done very well. I think it will have a good future. ..., but there are enough resources there for everyone to have a modestly decent life, if only the four horsemen will leave them alone.


Assessing Democracy in the New South Africa

Memorial service set for Robert Hamerton-Kelly, former dean of the chapel

Robert Hamerton-Kelly - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Further Reading

Google search "Robert Hamerton-Kelly" for many pages and links.

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