South Africa must stand up for democracy on the continent

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2,024 views

By Mmusi Maimane

The events that are currently unfolding in Zambia should be deeply concerning to those committed to democracy in Africa.

A week ago today, Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested and detained on charges of treason, the maximum punishment for which is death.

The excessive violence of the arrest, and the inhumane treatment that Hichilema has received in detention confirms the political motives behind these charges. The arbitrary arrest of political opponents is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, which seek to systematically eliminate any potential threat to their rule. This is a reality that South Africans are all too familiar with given our history of political repression under apartheid minority rule.

File Picture-HH with DA Leader Mmusi Maimane
File Picture-HH with DA Leader Mmusi Maimane

The events that are currently unfolding in Zambia should be deeply concerning to those committed to democracy in Africa. The roots of this political crisis can be traced to the flawed election that President Edgar Lungu officially won in August 2016, following credible reports of the abuse of state media and public funds for the ruling party’s campaign, the shutting down of opposition newspapers, widespread voter intimidation and a lack of transparency in the vote counting process. In rubber-stamping this election, the international community – including election observer missions – missed an important opportunity to defend democracy and reject the abuse of power.

If elections are not substantively free and fair, they serve only to provide a false sense of legitimacy for undemocratic leaders. For decades, the bar for African elections has been set too low, allowing autocrats to get away with anything short of outright violence and to erect a façade of democratic rule despite fraud, manipulation and suppression.

For too long, business leaders, diplomats and international organisations have held back from criticism of African leaders who seek to quash opposition and impose their rule, out of fear of retaliation or a belief that more work can be done from within the system. What is happening in Zambia, however, is the natural consequence of this logic. It takes courage to stand up and defend democracy, and to call authoritarianism by its name. But this is the only way to ensure a truly free and open society.

It is time for democrats in Africa to speak out. Democracy is a necessary condition for sustainable development, for the protection of fundamental human rights and the creation of economic conditions which bring people dignity. We cannot accept anything less – because without it, we are all vulnerable.

In South Africa, as in Zambia and other countries, we are witnessing the erosion of the rule of law, the abuse of state resources and political power, and the circumvention of the democratic process in ways both explicit and subtle. It is becoming increasingly difficult for opponents of powerful ruling parties to make their voices heard and to hold governments accountable for their actions. If this trend continues, the future of democracy and development on the continent will be in jeopardy. As a result, apathy is no longer an option.

Without a doubt, the Zambian government will try every method of diverting attention and blame – alleging Western conspiracy theories, invoking national security, resorting to populist rhetoric and ethnic mobilisation. These are the tools in the autocrat’s playbook. It is up to principled African leaders in politics and business, diplomats and international organisations, civil society and the people themselves to expose these tricks for what they are and reject them resolutely.

Like many of our brothers and sisters in Africa, South Africans fought long and hard for the right to vote. We must play a leading role in the ongoing fight to protect it. Rest assured, the Democratic Alliance will continue to take a principled stance, to set a higher bar for African democracy, and to fight for better governance and human rights on the continent.

The Author an MP and a leader of the South Africa’s largest Opposition Party, The Democratic Alliance .

21 COMMENTS

  1. +6
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    Mmusi concentrate on what you have done to malema coz he is rapidly loosing weight am sure ANC has done something to him .
    In your country you let loose democracy but poison people .
    Or is it Alice is Dying Slowly (AIDs) if not then your government is very undemocratic so stop talking about how we treat suspects coz that won’t shake this government

    • +3
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      First deal with xenophobic attacks and your rule of law. Too dull Ba south Africa. Talk about violence maybe.

    • +4
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      True son of Africa. Let us come together to rid of expired leaders like Mugabe or illegal ones like Lungu. Africa needs a clean slate with leader that can govern and protect their citizens not a failure that focuses on trying to destroy democracy. Lungu has greatly dented Zambia’s image. How do you send thugs and criminals in police uniforms to go loot an innocent man’s place even attempt to take an innocent man’s life.

    • vote

      “This is a reality that South Africans are all too familiar with given our history of political repression under apartheid minority rule.”
      “the ruling party’s campaign, the shutting down of opposition newspapers, widespread voter intimidation”
      THE AUTHOR OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE IS JUST A HEAP OF RUBBISH TOGETHER WITH HIS ARTICLE. I DON’T KNOW IF I CAN ALSO SINK SO LOW TO EVEN START WRITING TO CORRECT THE WRITER’S UNBLIEVABLY MASSIVE IGNORANCE. ALL I CAN REMIND YOU IS THAT THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN TEACH ZAMBIANS ABOUT APARTHEID AND THAT THE NEWSPAPER HE IS TALKING ABOUT HAS BEEN DEFAULTING TAX PAYMENTS FOR DONKEY AGES. I DON’T KNOW IF IN SOUTH AFRICA THEY CAN ALLOW A COMPANY NOT PAYING TAX FOR NOT ONLY 1 MONTH OR BUT YEARS. THE CHAP IS BACKING A WRONG HORSE IN HH.

  2. +7
    -4
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    hmmm…you have to please your white masters, Musa. We know you and hh belong to that elitist foundation. You recently rushed to court as DA to stop president Zuma after he fired his finance minister. The court flatly dismissed your childish democratic antics as every president is the leader of the executive arm of government and has every constitutional right to hire and fire ministers!! SO WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DEMOCRACY, ********??? YOUR COMMENTS ARE AN INSULT TO ZAMBIAN VOTERS!!!
    “In South Africa, as in Zambia and other countries, we are witnessing the erosion of the rule of law…YOU THE DA AND EFF ARE THE ARCHITECTS OF VIOLENCE AND DISRESPECT OF AUTHORITY, I WONDER IF SOUTH AFRICANS WILL BE ABLE TO FULLY TRUST YOU TO GOVERN THEIR COUNTRY???

  3. +9
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    Joke of the Century, Xenophobic south Africa should stand up for democracy kikikiki. Their president Zuma used over US $20 million to refurbish his private villa with his three wives. Should I continue?

  4. +4
    -2
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    Mmusi Maimane’s Analysis Is correct. Jacob Zuma is not only a letdown in South Africa but has done nothing much to advance Constitutional Democracy in Southern Africa. Instead of playing a Leading Role, Zuma has promoted Dictatorship in Southern Africa. If it was not for strong institutions of Good Governance Zuma would have been a Dictator just like Mugabe in Zimbabwe and Mu7 in Uganda. Soon after the Disputed and Petitioned Elections in Zambia, Zuma hosted Lungu and instead of telling him to finalise the Petition in Court, Zuma gave Lungu a semblance of Recognition even though his Intelligence Operatives had told him his host had stolen the Election and was illegally in Power in Zambia. Now Zambia is descending into a Rwanda on Zuma and SADC’s Watch. Zuma is oblivious to the fact…

  5. +8
    0
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    I think this author is hiding something here, I smell a rat. What is good about South African democracy? People are sleeping in the streets protesting against Zuma and you fail to see what is happening in your country but are able quickly and swiftly condemn our arrest of HH.

  6. +6
    0
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    “Without a doubt, the Zambian government will try every method of diverting attention and blame – alleging Western conspiracy theories, invoking national security, resorting to populist rhetoric and ethnic mobilisation. These are the tools in the autocrat’s playbook.”

  7. 0
    -2
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    1.1, don’t you understand that 1 is speaking about the South African government under which the DA is subject, unless it is also lawless like UPND.

    So, nothing to correct there. Democracy in South Africa is waning with the arrogance of politicians who are too greedy at the expense of the poor citizens who now think foreign residents are responsible for their sufferings, when the foreigners have actually gone to help the economy of SA by filling vacancies in various sectors that make SA to tick…

  8. +4
    -2
    vote

    All these are articles written for him by those guys close to HH. The DA is very mature, they do not behave like the under five politicians we have in the name of HH. What HH is doing is to hold on to his party after losing five or six times the rest are just looking. So for as long as he can show that he is being victimized for breaking the law then Jack Mwimbu and the rest of the progressive UPND members can only wait helplessly for ever. Surely if the UPND think only Hakainde Sunny Hichilema is the only candidate they can float for the sixth or so time as presidential candidate, then we have no leaders in UPND. And that explains the hatred they have for Lungu who has won twice. The Zambian electorate is not blind, they can see and they can hear. Surely is there anything presidential…

  9. +4
    0
    vote

    Mmusi is white people tea boy.. He is married to white lady and he thinks that is part of integration…He can not even displine Helen Zela a white racist woman who is part of his executive who has have signing praises of white oppressors in Africa as heros.

    SA has no moral fibre to tell any country about democracy.. or even rule of law…

  10. +1
    0
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    I believe that if he is a true leader of a so-called biggest opposition party in RSA, he would have shown maturity in reasoning. This guy’s essay is full of claims he can’t substantiate. Claims like “flawed elections,” and “The arbitrary arrest of political opponents is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, which seek to systematically eliminate any potential threat to their rule.” It is important for writers wishing to inform or persuade readers to show how they arrived at such claims by attaching relevant, undesputable facts to the claims. The guy seems like he got his facts from HH and hasn’t shown any interest to verify and test the claims. His argument, philosophically is flawed. He should better read and watch the videos of the Mongu presidential motorcade circulating. Who…

  11. +2
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    vote

    Ba musa ikalenifye Na Xenophobic yenu what can you tell us when in your country people have got no morals they just do things as they wish and want want us to be doing the same.we are a Christian nation therefore we need to have order coz God is not the God of disorder.who ever is wrong will be corrected and that’s what we are doing to your dear friend here.

  12. vote

    Thank you for great article Mmusi Maimane. If we don’t speak out then we perish together under the heavy weight of tyranny.

  13. +2
    0
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    Musi should shut up. He is just a white man’s boy, and thats why he was given the DA position just to try and win black voters, the person still in charge of DA is Hellen Zille, that party can never be given to blacks. Musi mote that your so called friend was arrested on criminal charges, and not on political issues. Now i believe that you are useless

  14. +2
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    Black South African donkey, same as his kind who is now in Chimbokaila on treason charges NOT political charges. DA can teach Zambia what democracy you donkey?

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