Unveiling Democracy: It’s A Mirage

I’m here watching as the brilliant pallet of hopeful colours democracy once painted for us in vivid penetrating hues of bright reds, warm oranges, sunny yellows, soft airy blues which so mesmerized the eye that some of us had to squint just to see the picture clearly;  begins to fade.

The dazzling ideal which democracy once hung in front of our eyes is grey now no longer black or white.  Bold or striking in crisp sparkling white or deep saturated blacks – the colours have bled into each other so much that while we are too petrified to pronounce the words describing what this image is fading into – we know for sure that it is not what we once hoped for. It is not about freedom, equality or justice.

The grey clouds in our democratic winter accomplished something remarkable – they have removed the illusions and pretences which we are so desperate to cling to.

It is about money

The tragic election of Donald Trump as the president of the United States has done us, the global public, a favour. In Trump, the true nature of the political system which has been governing our lives has been unveiled in all its raw-callousness.

American prof of Linguistics Noam Chomsky spoke about the construction of a  political system which is  “moving towards a real articulated expression of contempt for the general population,” 30 years ago. In the interview on dissent and democracy in 1988, Chomsky observed a trend in which the political system run by the elite including the intellegencia – increasingly operates without public participation, “where elections have been almost removed from the point where the public takes them seriously as involving a matter of choice.”

In the interview, Chomsky describes a system which we are all too familiar with  by now: A political figure (democratic or republican/ liberal or conservative/ right-wing or left-wing) who represents something, is supported by certain interests, has certain commitments comes before us  produces and says things which the polls  and his advisers tell him  will increase his chances of gaining office; after which he will dispense with everything he has said before to gain office and then proceed with his own commitments,  interests and what is demanded of him by those who supported him and those who provided him with resources. Chomsky noted that while this has always been true  what is interesting now is the extent to which it is recognized to be the “democratic system.”

The election of Donald Trump has caused an uproar among the ruling elite precisely because he has let the cat out of the bag; the political system exists only to protect privilege and power at all costs. Not only has he revealed that the ruling class does not care at all about the so-called ” people” or “general public” –  he has made it clear that it is not in the interest of power for the public to be well-informed, empowered or participate meaningfully in the decisions or choices that government makes. They don’t want that; dissent is a crisis for democracy and since they can’t force people through violent means to do what they want, they have employed sophisticated ways to control what people think; through media propaganda and coercion by pure charm: saying everything we want to hear and then doing the opposite.

While democracies who have bought into the American political ideology of Democratic Capitalism are still pretending that the public has a “choice” – Donald Trump has pulled the hat out of the rabbit.

Even as our politicians continue to say one thing and do something else, we can no longer pretend that the ruling party or opposition parties in our parliaments are there to serve the interests of the public. We cannot pretend that the newly elected president of the ruling ANC in South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, is representing the publics’ interest. No matter what he says in eloquent well-crafted speeches. He is only representing the interests of a privileged class the private sector of which he is a high-ranking member.

It is not a conspiracy

We know now from the events of Marikana where at least 34 striking miners were killed in order for Lonmin to continue production – whose side Ramaphosa is on. We know that he ordered government officials to end the strike by any means necessary. We know whose interests the police served when they opened fire. We know whose interests Ramaphosa will serve once he is sworn into office in 2019. We can’t pretend that he has not been obvious about it. We also know from the incidents surrounding the publication of his sex-scandal story who the mass media in this country will support.

Patrons of Power

The elite class including the media exists to serve the interests of power. Chomsky observed  that in this deck’ If you want to be an expert or part of the specialized class you have to be able to serve the interests of objective power – that’s an institutional role that has to be played and if you do it, if you’re able to articulate the interests of people with power, you’re in ‘

The same applies to journalism -if you want to be a journalist he said,  you have to accord the needs of the institution; imbibe its culture and values. Mass media are major corporations (monopolies)  and like any other business, they have to make a profit.  It doesn’t matter what you say to the people, as long as there’s a profit at the end of the day. In this context then the primary function of mass media is to mobilize public support for the special interest of the dominant class.

The role of the government in a capitalist democracy then is also similar; to make laws which protect the property rights and interests of a minority who own and control natural resources, industry and transport.

So, while we continue to live under an economic system where a few private individuals control the means of production and distribution of an entire country – democracy will remain what it has always been. Just a Mirage.

It’s not real  

We are free to the extent to which our freedom serves (profits) the interests of those with power.  That’s the reality.

 

 

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COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 10 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DENMARK

Before I tell you my list of ten things I didn’t know about Denmark,indulge me as I tell you a little story. A story I was told by an old friend of mine over dinner during my recent visit to the Scandinavian country which boarders Sweden and Germany.
The story concerns an erstwhile Danish-American chef who wanted to cook a traditional Danish dish it could have been dessert but I don’t remember exactly. He searched the web for a recipe and found one written in the Danish language, which he duly translated into English.
According to the recipe the dish required sweet milk, written as sød mælk in Danish. So off went the American-Danish to purchase condensed milk and then preceeed to add it to the ingredients which resulted in a less that perfect dish. The Danish-American soon found out that while sød mælk literally translated from Danish to English means Sweet milk – sød mælk – in Danish actually means full-cream milk.  Which means that in the Danish language sweet-milk is not sweet even if it is called sweet milk. This made me more curious about the etymology of the term or word, a curiosity which sparked a series of questions which led my friend to retort with some irritation that: ‘I didn’t invent the language.’ So perhaps there is a reason for this perhaps there is no reason – but this particular story sums up my overall impression of Denmark.  But as with most things, places and circumstances in life things are often never what people say they are nor are they what they seem. So Denmark in this context is not in any way peculiar. So without wasting any more of your time here are some fun facts about Denmark. Yes it’s an odd country.

1. THERE ARE MORE PIGS THAN HUMANS IN THE COUNTRY

Denmark produces approximately 28 million pigs a year, that’s five times the Danish population of 5.6 million people according to 2013 populations figures. The pigs are reared in around 5,000 pig farms, most pigs are slaughtered at the co-operative abattoirs Danish Crown and Tican. In addition, a substantial number of live piglets are exported, mainly to Germany. Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports and for more than 5 percent of Denmark’s total exports.

2 . FOREPLAY IS KEY TO THE FLOURISHING PIG INDUSTRY

I’m sure you’re wondering how it is that Denmark’s pig population is larger that the human population, the reason is quite simple. Researchers found that if female pigs are aroused before insemination they are likely to become more fertile or produce more piglets.  So farm workers are tasked with performing professional foreplay on the animals before they are inseminated to increase fertility rates. You can check out the actual video here to see how it’s done.

3. ANIMAL BROTHELS ARE A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Laws in both Denmark and Norway are fairly open when it comes to a person’s legal right to engage in sexual activity with an animal. The law states that doing so is perfectly legal, so long as the animal involved does not suffer. According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this interesting gap in the law has led to a flourishing business in which people pay in order to have sex with animals. On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. The newspaper contacted several such individuals and was told that many of the animals have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation. The newspaper found that the cost charged by the animal owners varied from DKK 500 to 1,000 (USD$85 to $170).

4.    AT HEART DENMARK IS A GREEN COUNTRY

Denmark is well-known the world over for its progressive environmental policies and sustainable living. From cycling to work and recycling of waste products but within Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen, there’s a different kind of green living. In Christiania, Copenhagens’ worst kept secret, is a free green zone. Meaning once you enter, you can buy and smoke  weed, marijuana, or cannabis, freely without fear.  You only have to obey three rules: Take No pictures, Don’t Run and just have fun.  It’s a fascinating place. My friends took me there one night at my request. It was as if I was walking into a western-cowboy movie set at Universal studios in Hollywood without the proverbial image of the bumble weed floating aimlessly against the piercing sun. The lighting was dim and the walls were illuminated with green lights which made the place suddenly feel like a ghost town. Being winter, there were braziers lighting the way to the main eating areas.Vendors sold their products behind camouflaged tents which looked like set-dressing from low-budget horro movies.

Everyone spoke in hushed tones and whispers and is speaking anylouder will alert the the police. No music could be heard, only the faint sound of money exchanging hands and the thick scent of purple haze which danced around nostrils on pusher street. Christiania had a distinctly illicit-lane feel about it, far from the breakfast at Tiffiney’s boutique or silicone valley start-pu image I often associated with the free or ‘legal’ consumption of weed. 

It’s a place for the city’s hippies, for stoners, it’s off the grid, or rather it is a town withing a town. It an autonomous city because by  law it’s allowed to exist. Police conduct raids once in while but it’s not frequent. The last time they tried to close down Christiania, drug peddlers scattered around the city increasing crime rates in an otherwise peaceful city. They caused choas in a well ordered environment. So authorities changed their minds. This way it’s all under control. Everyone knows everyone. It is crime but it is also organized so for the most part it’s fine. Everyone raises their eyebrows in shock at the sound of the word Christiania. Most people would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Everyone has a relative like that.

5. DEMOCRACY WORKS IN DENMARK

Not far from Christiania is the country’s parliament, the Christiansborg Palace –  the only building in the world to house three of the countries executive branches of government. The country is proud of its democracy, because as residents like to say, Democracy works in Denmark. I imagined it would work but what I didn’t know was that until recently the Danish parliament was the only parliament in the world to offer free access to the public. You can still walk through the building but since the cartoon incident – Denmark has earned the wrath of the Arab-Muslim world which has necessitated the screening for those wishing to attend parliamentary proceedings. There are sporadic bomb threats in the city every now and then.

6. CHRISTMAS IS NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW.

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is a song almost every Dane sings even if they may not know the words or had never heard the song before. This is because in Denmark, Christmas is not Christmas without snow fall. I was quite surprised when people openly expressed disappointment at the warm temperatures (+5 degrees Celsius). Many lamented at the possibility of not having snow in the winter. It is beautiful, pretty and everyone looks forward to a white Christmas every year. People were downright depressed that they would not after–all have a white Christmas. Apparently when it snows it’s not so cold. Anyway it made no difference to me. The air was always fresh and crisp. There’s a euphemism for everything.

  1.  YOU CAN PARK YOUR BABY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU SHOP

I forgot about the chills beneath my feet for a moment when I noticed that parents routinely parked their baby strollers and prams on the pavements outside before going inside shop buildings. Perhaps there is nothing strange about that, except that they left their babies in the prams/strollers parked outside while they continued to shop inside. No one seemed to worry that their children would disappear or get cold, because no one steals in Denmark. Children learn to live with the cold from a very young age. It took me a while to get used to seeing that. I had wow moments each time. Possibly the coolest thing about Copenhagen if you love shopping. You don’t need a baby sitter! You can just leave your child outside!

8. FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS ARE COOL

There are approx. 70 folk high schools spread across the country, most of them are situated in rural areas or smaller towns, and they are typically named after the local district. In the early 1800’s, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national romanticism were developing. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 -1872) was deeply inspired of these thoughts, and after personal experience from the Trinity College in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school. Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society – a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enroll at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the folk high school was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means  to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders. Key feature of folk high schools is the fact that there are not exams or age restrictions with two or three exceptions to the rule. Some schools are specialized ( film, music or sports) while others are more general and any community can start a folk high school which is funded and or subsidized by the state.

9   THERE ARE HOLIDAY TAX RETURNS

Though Denmark maybe one of the richest countries in the world its citizens are heavily taxed in order for the government to afford social services such as free health care and education among a host of other benefits. But what surprised me most is that there is a holiday tax too. Government deducts a certain amount from your salary every month and then refunds it when  you go on leave or holiday.  Many Danes use the money to travel the world; having a Christmas office party at a Michelin star hotel in Italy over the weekend is not unheard of. It’s par for the course.

  1. IT’S BASICALLY THE LAND OF FAIRY TALES

Fairy-tales have a huge following in Denmark, especially those produced by Walt Disney. They feature prominently on people’s TV screens around Christmas time. The Danish National broadcaster screens a series of Walt Disney Movies and the latest animation film for that yea each christmas. It is now part of the Danish tradition. The fairy tale reaches its zenith on Christmas eve when families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree while singing traditional Christmas carols. Christmas would not be Christmas without singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Most adults acknowledge that it’s a strange practice – but they do it anyway, wherever they may be around the world because it is their heritage after all.

WAAW! A CULTURAL SHOCK

In conclusion these are ten things I didn’t know about Denmark until I went there.  But the most interesting thing of all, the most heart-breaking thing I didn’t know did not make it on the list, simply because the headline says 10 things I didn’t know not 11. Another reason is because technically speaking the 11th thing is not a Danish thing necessarily.

IT’S JUST  ANOTHER BUS SCENE

Picture it.  My friend and I caught a bus on a sight-seeing mission around the city. We sit opposite a man who immediately looked to me like a West African, because he was very tall, very thin and very dark. He was speaking loudly on his mobile phone. A white old woman sat next to him looking quite distressed by his loudness. I listened to the conversation and discovered that the man was speaking  a mixture of Wolof and French, which led me to assume that he might be on a long distance call to Senegal. My friend and I were thoroughly amused by the scene as the man seemed quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing around him. Soon the old woman  moved seats as soon as one was available, and this seemed to free-up the mans’ lungs. He spoke with free abandon now that no one was sitting next to him. He laughed and said sweet nothings between exclamations of Waaw! Wolof for yes!
My friend and I laughed and I was secretly glad and pleasantly surprised to hear someone speak Wolof in Denmark, I mean what were the odds? He reminded me of home. It had been two long years since I last heard those words. Soon another black-African passenger who was sitting at the back of the bus approached the man and told him to keep quiet, to keep it down as he was disturbing the peace in the bus. The man went silent, as if he had been shot with a silencer. Even even though he continued on the phone his hello? hallo? waaw… had become lifeless. For the first time he looked around the bus and our eyes met briefly, I quickly looked down in mutual embarrassment because I had never seen the face of a man seconds after being stripped of his voice. ‘That’s a first’ my friend commented ‘seeing another African tell a fellow African to keep it down, not to embarrass us in public.’  

It was an ordinary day, in an ordinary bus, no big deal. But for some insignificant reason, in an insignificant moment my heart broke. Because for some reason, I think a man died that day.

Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year!

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

SA ELECTION 2014: THE CLOSER YOU LOOK, THE LESS YOU SEE.

IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com
IEC National Results Centre Pretoria. Pic Demotix.com

“ The floor plan for this place looks like a trading floor” one  newspaper journalist remarked. We looked around with renewed eyes and yes it did!  He had just come out for a break from doing spread sheets calculating which party is likely to get seats in parliament after the IEC had concluded its “mathematical calculation to allocate seats, a two stage process.”   There are left over seats? “Yes but you can’t use words like that, you have to be careful with how you word this practice – I wanted to say you can “buy” votes but  my newspaper would not allow it. It would be wrong to say that. All that you see on the board amounts to 400 seats in parliament, and the “left-over-seats” will be allocated to parties who are closer to the 45 thousands votes needed for the them to get a seat in parliament, so for example, though AGANG didn’t do that well they might end up having a three seats in parliament according to my calculations.”  He said. I asked the IEC guy in charge of doing the actual calculations to explain the mathematical equation to me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked extremely tired, he didn’t want to be recorded. “It’s a mathematical calculation” he said as if expecting me to turn away. “We calculate according to decimal points. You know a decimal point… so if a party gets x amount point something, the figure after the point we go by the highest number after he decimal point, x point 6 is higher than x point two for example and we do that in stages” He said. So it’s possible that my vote for a smaller party could end up being allocated to another party in this rotational mathematical calculation system? “No, no that’s not how it works, be patient we’ll give you a press statement, today if you’re lucky” he said walking away. I was still none the wiser.  But here’s the formula, which happens in two stages:

CAN YOU TRANSLATE WORDS INTO NUMBERS?

The Seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region, a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the IEC determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region.  To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated by the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. It this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level to obtain the number regional lists seats allocated to each party.”

THE SECOND STAGE: THE LOTTO

This stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the national Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of seats in the National assembly, plus one. The result, plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this is smaller than the number of seats in the National assembly, unallocated seats in the National Assembly are awarded to the parties according to a descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.  The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

DENUMERACY

“wow” I exclaimed feeling my brain expanding for the first time since I arrived at the IEC National Results Operation Center – “so it’s like gambling” I said, feeling instantly wide awake.  Yes agreed the newspaper journalist “it is”, “in fact” he added “it’s pretty much how corporate shares work, that’s why it’s often hard to for companies to know who gets what and it’s all about rounding it off the next 1000.” I had never heard it explained that way before. “So does that make the process more or less democratic?”

Well it depends said the newspaper guy, for one : smaller parties with 1 to 7 members can’t have a presence in all 53 parliamentary committees which meet on an almost daily basis. And they are more often than not out-voted. Yes their objections will be duly noted but it will not change the outcome of a vote if there is a cohort. You have to be strategic about how you use the parliamentary process in order to be effective.  You have to choose which committee you are likely to be most effective in or have the most impact. When it comes to voting bills into law (one of the jobs of Members of Parliament is to legislate) The DA for example employs various strategies. Thursday is the most important day in parliament, that’s the day when most bills are voted in, and it’s also the day when MPs from other regions want to go home early (for the weekend), so many of them are already on their way out, if 200 ANC MPs go home, and the DA is left with a 100 members who stayed they can in effect vote a bill into parliament or walk-out to delay the process if there is not cohort. Not all parliamentary members need to be in, you must have at least 200 cohorts’ votes for a bill to be voted into law. It’s a tricky game but I love it. From his description it sounded a bit like being back in school or university except this time you re not judged on personal merit but on the political party you belong to. But I guess it’s all the same.

“HISTORY IS A SET OF LIES AGREED UPON” Napoleon  Bonaparte

So there you have it, democracy (majority rule) in a nutshell from a journalist who has been doing this job for 13 years.  This conversation left me animated, so infused renewed understanding I wished I had met him five days before the elections.  It left me wondering what an “actual” multi-party “democracy”, or more or less equal distribution of diverse voices (political parties) and opinions in parliament would look like. If you had five seats per party for example, laws might take longer to be enacted, but would it on the other hand make the process fairer? And more importantly could it still be defined as a democracy? Did you know that political analysts  are yet to agree on what democracy means. The word originates from the late 16th century. From the Greek words demos (people) + Kratia (power/rule) =  Demokratia, which was became the word democratie in French and gave us Democracy in English. Searching for meaning? There is no “majority” in the word democracy. People is plural, but you only need one more person (plus one) to have the word people. Meaning people with power will always rule. How? Power is attractive, people will  vote for someone who  has the means to do something. i.e If one household has  electricity/telephone in the whole village – the majority will automatically vote for them.  When everyone has electricity, then voting becomes about who has more houses with  power. What I got from it? I understood Democracy as a vehicle for capitalism in the same way that Christianity or organized religion is a vehicle for capitalism) No wonder the ANC calls itself a broad church. No church pays taxes, only church goers do and that’s not a moral judgment, it is  just how the system works. The way it is.It’s either you buy into it or you don’t.Does it makes sense? I sure hope so.