Talk on democracy at SU

Professor Homi Bhabha

As a post-colonial country, South Africa should cherish its democracy and not abuse it, said Professor Homi Bhabha, regarded as the world’s premier post-colonial literary theorist and Director of the Mahindra Humanities Centre at Harvard University, on Wednesday August 16.

Bhabha, who is visiting Stellenbosch University (SU), spoke at an event held at the SU Museum.

Highlighting the importance of democracy in postcolonial contexts, Professor Bhabha said that “post-colonial countries who gain their independence by opposing restrictive and sometimes totalitarian and oppressive and exploitative systems of colonialisation, should cherish democracy. They should not abuse their democracy. Democracy is like a basketball, you got to continually try to keep it up in the air and it demands a great effort.”

He criticised government, saying that current power structures do not seem to support the pillars of democracy which he listed as the distribution of resources, the distribution of education and the maintenance of a free media.

“Instead the leaders are trying to create a kind of populism that does not take advantage of the rich weaving of culturally and ethnically diverse traditions.”

Professor Bhabha said it is important for leaders to listen to the people of South Africa.

“Once you stop listening to criticism from responsible quarters, once you think your power is immune, then corruption and demoralisation follow. That is the death of democracy.”

For South Africa to truly move forward, there must be trust that is built on a larger sense of recognition of those who have not been able to represent themselves, he said. “Trust is also built on forms of redistribution of opportunity to people who have not been able to fully explore and extend themselves in the building of civil society.”

He questioned, however, whether South Africans can really trust their leaders. Professor Bhabha said South Africans should never forget that the country’s strength depends on the diverse traditions that constitute it.

Professor Bhabha also spoke to students on the theme “Engaged scholarship and ethical citizenship”.