Jan 20, 2012
China not the only threat to democracyBack
Africa|System|Africa|America|Europe|China|Greece|Italy|South Africa|Stellenbosch Institute Of Advanced Studies|Easter|Energy|Product|Headache|Environmental
© Reuse this
That month was the best my brain has ever spent in any place. I was like a child in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory because I had the opportunity to engage with scholars and intellectuals from home and abroad, including a scholar who had written on the topic I was there to research, that is, historical memory and politics in postapartheid South Africa. Do not panic – I am not about to go heavy on you so early in the year with a treatise on historical memory. I will reserve that for Easter.
However, what I will tell you about are two interesting encounters I had at the STIAS because they influenced the content of this article. The first was over lunch with a group that studies complexity by taking a multidisciplinary approach. All I will say for now is that I had a headache for days after that encounter. The second was with a group that was looking at the theme of global crisis and democracy. What they were investigating is whether the global economic crisis would present opportunities for, or impose threats on, democracy. There was concern among some of them that an economically resurgent China would pose a threat to demo- cracy all over the world, including those parts of the globe that are already democratised.
During the last quarter of 2011, I spent a lot of time thinking about the connection between the global economic crisis and democracy. In December, I was part of a discussion during which an American warned that developing countries such as South Africa should be wary of China. He argued that China is a hegemon and that its narrow political and economic interests are the centre of its universe. Well, he did not put it this well, but I am certain you get my drift.
There is nothing original about these warnings. People warn us dim-witted Africans about China all the time. What I find amusing – I no longer have the energy for anger – is the fact that these words of wisdom always come from Europeans and Americans and South Africans who are part of the Western sphere of influence. There are many ironies that are lost on these people. Because they are too numerous to mention, I will share just a few. Firstly, it is extremely problematic that, as a man who has spent almost half a cen- tury on this planet, I thought, for most of that time, that the English-speaking parts of the West were the philosophical, cultural and economic centre of the universe. This is a product of centuries of cultural and economic domination which, in many cases, was imposed violently.
Secondly, I did not experience China as a hegemon. It is America and Europe that imposed themselves and their ways on us.
Thirdly, my experience of the hegemony of the West has largely been that of a gap between its liberal democratic aesthetic and the moral content of its relations with the ‘Third World’.
That said, as a democrat, I recognise the gap between China’s economic resurgence and its very deep democratic deficits. This article is, therefore, not about waving the Chinese flag in your face. As I have said before, the global economic crisis and shifts in the global system from West to East constitute an opportunity for us to reconfigure the content of global economic relations and work towards a less unethical or more ethical global cultural, environmental and economic order. If this does not happen, it is highly unlikely that sub- stantive democracy will become a reality for most people on this planet.
What this means is that the Arab Spring, instead of giving birth to a summer of freedom and democracy, will mutate into a winter of discontent and betrayal of hope. Three things are worth noting in this regard. Firstly, it is not a given that shifts in the global system will deliver a new economic paradigm and a more ethical international system.
Secondly, we should not rule out the possi- bility of democratic reversals in some parts of the democratic world.
Thirdly, it is not a given that the current democratic order will yield to one that allows a diversity of democratic expe- riments and experiences.
If the experiences of Greece and Italy are anything to go by, we should be very worried because the application of economic remedies that are based on the ‘shock doctrine’ of imposing unpopular and undemocratic measures on a paralysed citizenry may subvert the democratic rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations. Therefore, it is foolish to think that China is the only threat to democracy. We must also be wary of the tyranny of technocrats acting in the interests of the market.
Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Video News
Recent Research Reports
Road and Rail 2014: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2014 report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move road...
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
This Week's Magazine
While Ekurhuleni-based transformer manufacturer Reliable Transformers currently designs, manufactures and tests its products according to the SANS 780 specifications for distribution transformers and other applicable transformer specifications, it is working towards...
Global endpoint security solutions company Kaspersky Lab has introduced new measures to prevent cyber criminals from accessing sensitive data, alongside its malware-signature and heuristic device analysis detection methods. Threats to mobile devices have increased...
To ensure uptake and a positive impact, Wireless Fidelity (Wi-Fi) networks in cities must be provided at schools, community centres and commercial centres to enable citizens and government to access information that will improve access to and delivery of services....
Eco-estate Monaghan Farm, located near Lanseria airport, north-west of Johannesburg, has taken a new approach to modern living and sustainability with its 517 ha development, dedicated to farm living.
Forklift and lift-truck distributor Goscor Lift Hi-Reach launched the Genie SX-180, the tallest self-propelled super boom in Africa, in Johannesburg last month. “As the official distributor of the well-known Genie range of equipment in Southern Africa, we are pleased...