The Defend our Democracy campaign has set out to mobilise a broad coalition of organisations to reinstate citizens’ Constitutional rights, ensure the State Capture Commission of Inquiry’s findings are put into practice, and fight corruption. Spokesperson Duduetsang Mmeti explains how the campaign is evolving into a social movement anyone can join.
The Defend our Democracy campaign seeks to promote democratic renewal and change in South Africa. How and why has the campaign come about, and what does it hope to achieve?
In March 2021, former president Jacob Zuma was ordered to testify before the State Capture Inquiry. His defiance of the court order made it clear that certain high-profile individuals think they are above the law. The failed insurrection that followed in June 2021 only emphasised this.
A few anti-apartheid struggle activists came together to pen an open letter that made the connection between
Jacob Zuma’s behaviour and an attack on our Constitutional democracy. This was born of a need to put pressure
on the state to respond meaningfully to widespread state corruption, particularly in view of the revelations emerging from the State Capture Commission.
On 2 July 2022, the Declaration of the Conference for Democratic Renewal and Change was adopted at our conference of the same name. This declaration sets out a program e of action for reclaiming and renewing our democracy.
Among other strategies, we would like to enhance accountability among public representatives, and are campaigning for electoral system reforms based on the principle of direct accountability, along with increased transparency of political party funding. We would like to see a constituency-based, proportional representation electoral system in place, which allows people to directly elect their counsellors.
Who are the key figures behind the campaign and what roles are they playing to ensure that all sectors of society are engaged?
There is a vibrant mix of anti-apartheid activists involved. The secretariat consists of Dr Fazel Randera, Rev Frank Chikane, Neeshan Balton, Trish Hanekom, Nick Binedall, Rev Moss Ntlha, Trevor Fowler, Sheila Sisulu, Dipak Patel,
Adv Mojanku Gumbi, Nicole Fritz, Mandla Nkomfe, Kristen Abrahams, Murphy Morobe and Zaakirah Vadi.
There are a number of dynamic women of all generations involved, which is good to see.
How did we get to the point where constitutional democracy is actively under threat, even though a democratically elected government is in power?
The Constitution is a progressive founding document that guarantees us not only human rights, but also socio-economic rights, which help to restore the human dignity that was denied to poor people of colour in South Africa.
Unfortunately, historically disadvantaged people still experience the same challenges they did pre-democracy.
The way politics plays out in our country, we don’t get to vote for individuals, only parties – so even if we do have a democratically elected government, we still cannot hold public representatives accountable.
What strategies can we employ to safeguard our democracy, and what is the campaign planning to do?
A lot of the work we do is based on advocacy – mobilising support from other civil society organisations. As we
renew and strengthen democracy, we also need to renew public participation in our democratic dispensation in a meaningful way, so we can all become active citizens.
In the immediate future, we need to safeguard our public infrastructure. It is concerning that we were on the brink
of a national blackout due to years of mismanagement at Eskom and attempts to sabotage the power utility. Ordinary South Africans should safeguard power stations from rogue forces that want to destabilise the country. We should take greater ownership of our public infrastructure, instead of leaving it to the state.
Importantly, we want people to understand the connection between service delivery and the need for democratic renewal – active citizenry is not just about putting a cross on a ballot sheet but about holding our public representatives to their promises.
Do you think democracy is under threat and, if so, how does the Defend our Democracy campaign feed into broader conversations about the erosion of democratic values?
Events in the United States, India and Sri Lanka reflect the growing fascist sentiment around the world,
characterised by populist, divisive and toxic politics. Closer to home, Operation Dudula feeds into xenophobia
and Afrophobia, and is playing out at the highest levels of government.
Democracy helps to maintain peace within and among societies, so we need to call out those questioning or eroding democratic values. As Defend our Democracy grows into a social movement, we will establish solidarity with other likeminded organisations on our continent and internationally.
How can South African individuals, companies and non-profits support the campaign?
We will be sharing information about our affiliate programme in the media. Our movement is not limited to civil
society organisations and will appeal to broader institutions within society.
Communications office for Defend our Democracy