Do Elections Promote Democracy or Have They Become a Façade for the Continuation of Coloniality? [Reflecting on Freedom Day]
While April 27th, 1994 saw the promise of the realisation of a nation that would finally become unified and equal, this promise seems to have only materialised through the government changing hands while the same systems of power and governance were retained. In present-day terms, this is regarded as postcoloniality, which will be explained in more detail throughout this article.
You will be offered a chance to not only explore this concept but to also realise how it applies to our daily lives. Not only will this be portrayed through definitions, but practical examples will be provided for relatability.
What is Coloniality
The continuation of coloniality is evident in how political will is enshrined in the highest binding law in the land, while the impoverished only continue to become more impoverished. Causing them distress when the political parties they vote into power end up being manipulators who only use their votes as a stepping stone to fattening their own pockets.
Coloniality is defined as an oppressive mode of power being used to marginalise and keep those who were formerly colonised under colonial rule, even when they have attained liberation from their oppressors, and this is what Maldonaldo-Torress (2007) regards as the pressing need for decoloniality—the dismantling of the existence of coloniality.
Coloniality is most rampant in the maladministration of government, a lack of ensuring the provision of basic services to everyone in the country, and the racial prejudice that is still evident within society. The previously disadvantaged aren’t presently at a better point than they were at the time of the last elections held in 2019, just 11 days after Freedom Day. Instead, they continue to find themselves being plunged further into states of disarray that alienate them from participation in any political, social, educational, and worst of all, economic activity.
Voters are gradually becoming discouraged and more unwilling to actively participate in electoral processes, as they keep realising that the parties they continue to vote into power have established themselves as modern-day colonisers. The need to bridge the gap between all societal groups has never been more dire than it is now, as the only way to restore people’s faith in the systems they vote into power is through the full reintegration of everyone within our country.
This means that governing powers need to develop more transparency with the citizens, where issues that affect them are duly addressed and not left to simply worsen. While this may often be the case due to a lack of adequate service delivery and promoting equality for all, the government still bears a responsibility to promote political participation amongst citizens so they realise that this is focal to transformational processes ensuing.
Without firmly raising their voices to the challenges continuously confronting them, South Africans bear the possibility of having to face kleptocratic governments that only seek to advance their personal mandates at the expense of collectively benefitting the voters.
The Constitution and the Hindrance to Development
The Constitution of South Africa is the highest law and it is equally enforceable to all citizens. This is evident in writing, while in practice, there are too many contradictions to its applicability.
An example is Section 19 (3) (a) of the Constitution stating that Every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution. This provision extends to freedom of political association, although you still see many political killings across South Africa during local or national government elections. These are usually instituted before election time when opposition parties are still campaigning for votes. Where does this leave the faith of voters when it comes to their preferred candidates if they are being subjected to such brutal acts?
Not only does this reinforce the notion that those in power will continue to retain it, but it highlights how they will do anything in their power to stay in these positions too. When reflecting on what has come since the 2019 national government elections, many political scandals have surfaced which have caused the state to lose a lot of financial resources that could have been directed toward growth, development, and empowerment. Some of the most crucial hindrances that have resulted in the government’s maladministration have been highlighted in The World Bank’s strategy in South Africa (2023) where a reflection on the priorities of development and uniqueness of the leadership position South Africa has highlighted the following key areas of specific concerns:
- Continued rolling power cuts due to a shortage in electricity generation and supply.
- Disempowerment of small to medium businesses that incur financial losses as a result of load shedding.
- Growing concerns over water security.
- Shockingly low employment levels, especially amongst the work-ready generation.
- GDP growth has slowed down in 2022 from 4.9% in 2021 to 2%.
- Socioeconomics is largely negatively impacted by fuel price hikes.
- Social relief grants have been provided to unemployed individuals under the age of 35, which has somewhat alleviated the concerns of the unemployed, although this only creates a dependency on the government than it solves the issue of unemployment.
- Lack of adequate skills relating to fields that require expertise.
The legacy of apartheid continues to be prevalent in present-day South Africa, where the previously oppressed are still being excluded from most socio-economic sectors. This causes further isolation of racial groups that have been subjected to the most inhumane treatment in pre-democratic South Africa. So, how then do people begin the quest to restore their humanity in such a system?
Making Decoloniality a Reality
In his 2015 article titled Decoloniality as the Future of Africa, Ndlovu-Gatsheni defines decoloniality as a continuous movement geared towards liberating the formerly oppressed from any form of coloniality. This extends to the coloniality of power, knowledge, and the being. Ramugundo et al. (2017) explain how the coloniality of power is related to administrative structures that continue to enforce oppressive practices, while the coloniality of knowledge is ascribed to the systematic suppression of indigenous knowledge systems for the advancement of Westernised knowledge, and the coloniality of being is the disenfranchisement of the formerly colonised who have not been fully rehumanized and find themselves subjected to discrimination when they apply their indigenous practices that tie in with their sense of identity.
While we can point out all the shortcomings of the current system of governance, it is equally important for each of us to account for our role in the realisation of freedom for all—where this means that freedom is everyone’s birthright and not just applicable to a selected few. Perhaps we can revive the euphoria of 27 April 1994 by first making decoloniality a reality and transforming the narrative of all South Africans so they can enjoy the freedom they continue to vote for.
With the World Bank’s commitment to see a transition in the socio-economic conditions of South Africans, it becomes more important for people to also realise what their involvement in this transformative process means at an individual and collective level.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996.
Maldonado-Torres, N. (2007). On the coloniality of being: contributions to the development of a concept. Cultural Studies. Vol. 21, No. 2-3, pp. 240-270.
Ndlovu-Gatsheni. S.J. (2015). Decoloniality as the Future of Africa. History Compass. Vol. 13 No. 10, pp. 485-496.
Ramugondo, E., Lepere, R., and Nebe, W. (2017). Decolonizing Stigma and Diagnosis as Healing Work. Health Tomorrow. Vol. 5, pp. 1-23.
The World Bank. (2023). The World Bank in South Africa: The World Bank’s strategy in South Africa reflects the country’s development priorities and its unique leadership position at sub-regional and continental levels. WorldBank.org. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southafrica/overview#3
About the Author:
Nonkululeko Kubheka is a professional, academic, and creative writer, who is passionate about topics relating to leadership in Africa, decoloniality, African spirituality, socioeconomic conditions, and mental health. She is a member of the Activate! Writer’s Hub 2023 cohort, and her writing experience dates as far back as 2012, where she has been freelancing as a professional writer since 2021.