Is South Africa on the verge of the end of 20 years of bourgeois democracy and the beginning of people's democracy? Have we arrived at the crossroads where the political class can no longer rule as it wishes, or can only rule by increased force, because the consent of the ruled has been revoked? In the first month of this year already, the state killed 10 people during protests for basic services. The state and capital can no longer conceal their murderous ways. The crisis is both political and economic.
Our democracy is a bourgeois democracy, basically a system that legitimises the rule of the elected representatives at the expense of the electorate. It's a democracy of the ruling capitalist class. The dominant parties conceal their funders because the same sources fund and control them. We see this in the similarities of the economic policies of the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. They both favour capital over people.
The true nature of bourgeois democracy reveals itself during election times. The power of the media and other gimmicks are used to entice the electorate to participate in a process that is akin to fraud. Political parties make promises we all know they will abandon the day after the elections – and the electorate has no way by which to hold them accountable.
There are two general responses to the limits of bourgeois democracy. The first is that large numbers of people simply stay away from the polls or they spoil their ballots. Either way, they submit to the rule of those they have not elected. Boycotts combined with mass struggle can force change, but if the struggle is low-key, sporadic and regional, it's business as usual for the political class.
The second reaction is to punish the ruling parties by voting for an alternative party. This is a treacherous period because false alternatives can present themselves and, after the poll, the electorate finds it has replaced one set of politicians with a new lot that perpetuate the same system. But this period opens a window for alternatives to give content to democracy and to realise popular programmes of transformation that serve the people at the expense of the bourgeoisie. Then bourgeois democracy is transformed into people's democracy.
The minimum precondition for people's democracy is that the millions become disaffected. There must be expressed revolt against the ruling politicians. And there must be a political movement or party that represents the mood of the disaffected majority with an ideological programme that seeks to end bourgeois democracy. Such a party must win the confidence of the masses. It has to be unwavering in its challenge to the political class and their capitalist handlers. The question is whether or not South Africa, after 20 years of bourgeois democracy, meets these minimum conditions.
Mass protest and the violent reaction of the state indicate that the country is in a period of possible rearticulation of politics. The ruling party and the opposition party have no answer to the rising tide of protest and demands. Relying on repression and lies can't pacify the masses any longer.
It is in this atmosphere that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has explicitly adopted a Marxist-Leninist-Fanonian ideological orientation to challenge the current democracy. Our mini-rallies are impatient and energetic; the EFF has taken the protest space in South African politics.
The challenge facing the EFF is whether or not it will be able to sustain this two-pronged identity beyond the upcoming elections, as a protest force outside of Parliament as well as a force inside Parliament. Will its MPs eschew the bourgeois respectability of Parliament and imbue the legislature with a new, rebellious energy?
The biggest advantage of movements that rely on highly mobilised masses is that energy can be channelled to massive social reconstruction for a better life for all. People can reclaim their right as authors of their own destiny. Demanding accountability becomes the ethic that defines relations between representatives and the people.
Let's imagine for a second a call to replace all shacks with solidly built structures within five years. The state provides land, building materials, a stipend and guidance for people to build their own homes to a certain standard. A people's democracy harnesses the energies of the people, it trusts their collective wisdom. The elite hate it because it would rob it of its get-rich-quick schemes, which have produced the monstrosity that is RDP houses unfit for human dwelling.
If we want a new society, we need to think more about our people as the solution to problems, with the support of a pro-people state, to give meaning to democracy. Development is not a technical endeavour by professionals; it is a political process that must unleash the people's energies and creativity. Only a people's democracy can realise such a dream.
Andile Mngxitama is a member of the EFF executive. The EFF election manifesto is to be launched on February 22