College of Law

We need equity not equality

Global society commemorates the International Day of Democracy on 15 September annually, the day that was resolved upon by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2007. Since different nations had different views of what democracy is, UNGA acknowledged the universality of democracy and how it applies in different countries across the world. The purpose of this day is to promote and uphold the principles of democracy and create public awareness of what it is about. 

Mo-Afrika Kodisang Bokaba, Department of Jurisprudence, College of Law, Unisa

In relation to how it affects South Africa (SA), according to Unisa’s Mo-Afrika Kodisang Bokaba of the Department of Jurisprudence, College of Law (CLAW), SA follows a western model of democracy where the individual and minority rights triumph over the rights of others. He says, for that reason, SA needs to strike a balance between the rights of the majority, individuals and minorities, and start recognising the rights of the collective.

Bokaba believes that in the context of #BlackLivesMatter throughout the world, the notion of "the people" would exclude those that are impoverished, marginalised and do not have economic muscles to impose, through litigation and other instruments, their rights. He says that there are pressure groups that represent specific unmarginalised groups in SA as they have the necessary control over the judiciary, economy, and all modes of society, and are able to enforce their rights through the courts.

His concern is that the majority, who are marginalised even after 26 years of democracy, remain poor and landless. While they dominate parliament,they are unable to enforce their own rights such as the right to land, access to better health care, access to free higher education, housing and other basic rights. He believes that this is so because the country has not practically recognised such rights as being human rights or people’s right. For him, African people in SA - the majority - remain incapable of enjoying human rights and democracy.

"When black lives are lost, even those who control the state see it as a norm, but when white lives are lost, it becomes a nightmare," he expressed. Bokaba reflected on the senseless killings of black people in both SA and the United States (US). "In the US, black people are killed by police while they are unarmed and sometimes handcuffed. When it gets to court, there are claims that the police felt threatened, but when a black person kills a white person, it is a serious criminal act; the whole black community is held accountable for that act."

He added that South Africa has had cases of sexual offences by white males such as the Dros restaurant rape of a minor where in court the actions of the perpetrator were justified that he had a mental condition. Furthermore, if it were a black man, it would have probably been said that it is in their nature and culture. He drew back to the issue of black people not having the economic ability to exercise their rights.

Distinguishing between equity and equality, Bokaba profusely expressed that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed that countries need equity instead of equality, alluding to the fact that those in affluent areas cannot be treated the same as those in impoverished areas, irrespective of their race, as their needs are not the same. He provided a relevant example of the current health crisis in SA, saying that there are people who died without their deaths being recorded by the Health Department due to a lack of health-care facilities; that they resorted to African medicine for prevention and recovery.

"Democracy should not be about voting for the same people who represent the same interests and not those of the poor and the marginalised. It should not be about voting for people who visit poor communities, hug children and grandparents during election campaigns, and spend millions thereon. Democracy is when the will of the people, including the poor, marginalised and those with disabilities, find expression in government policies and equal distribution of its resources," said Bokaba.

Bokaba urged South Africans to recognise leadership and competence outside political party organisations and political loyalty. He said they should remember that the then leaders such as Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko sacrificed their lives for their people and the next generations. He alluded to the fact that, unlike some current leaders, they did not do it to deprive Africans of their languages and cultures.

Concluding by interlinking democracy and heritage, he emphasised that wearing traditional attire even when going to work should not be seen as if one is not properly dressed, as what is worn every day is European traditional attire. "Our languages have been turned into non-official languages that can only be used outside the work environment, the language of our oppressors is called the 'language of business'; that is cultural oppression! If you do not express yourself in English, it is as if you are not educated whereas you can freely express yourself in your own language. Let us embrace our heritage."

#Heritage2020 #MyHeritageYourHeritage

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2020/10/07