Opinion

Why we need a benevolent dictator to make SA a truly great country

26 May 2019 - 00:05 By Rich Mkhondo


The time has come for a dictatorship, some form of enlightened despotism in our Rainbow Nation. Before you accuse me of being politically incorrect, I am talking about a benign or benevolent dictatorship. A consensual dictatorship.
You know, the sort that gets things done, rather than the self-serving regimes of yesteryear, which ruled with fear and assassinated opponents.
I am talking about a benevolent dictator, who, unlike a malevolent dictator, will exercise absolute political power over the state, but for the benefit of the population as a whole.
After 25 years, nine of which were wasted while our politics were reduced to demagogic frivolity, a benevolent dictatorship is a better option than what we have now. After the 2019 elections, we need a benevolent dictator who will say "my way or the highway". Why? Because our political leaders are viewed with distrust. They are associated with sleaze. They are self-serving. They use their positions for private gain.
Our public services are not improving. Mediocrity hangs over all of them. They are increasingly administered by a vast class of people whose main function is to draw a salary and support the government that gave them a job.
Despite the fact that we spend more on education than ever before in our history, our schools continue to churn out learners who can barely read, add, or write, leaving them as ignorant as the day they entered the system and ultimately unemployable.
Our police force vacillates between bullying and sheer unwillingness to do anything about the crime by which we are swamped.
Of course, no great nation, big or small, can claim political maturity and stability until such time as it has cleansed itself of political decadence and the culture of corruption and greed.
Our nation has made great strides in the past 25 years, but our political leaders are concentrating on the politics of the stomach, as has been revealed in the various commissions and scandals.
Authoritarian techniques practised by benevolent dictators such as the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the late Deng Xiaoping of China can sometimes ensure better results than those realised by bumbling, democratically elected rulers. Lee, whose administration wielded absolute power, transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of Asia's wealthiest nations, a centre of international banking, business and shipping.
Of course, by definition, all dictatorships are authoritarian. The dictator possesses absolute political power, and demands obedience to their authority over any desire for individual freedom. It is the dictator alone, not the individual citizen or elected representative, who determines what's best for the nation.
In the political philosophy of fascism, the individual exists to serve the state. A dictator promotes an extreme brand of nationalism and uses propaganda to maintain their hold on the people.
Their strong, centralised government exercises tight control over economic and social activities.
What we need is our own Lee Kuan Yew, but the kind who will abide by our constitution and allow economic liberation and democratic decision-making.
We need an enlightened despot, a modern-day dictator, an institution builder, whose administration will be led by people of principle, who are imbued with compassion and prepared to sacrifice political dogma on the altar of moral discomfort.
We need a good dictator who will abide by our constitutional principles of freedom of expression, human rights, effective checks and balances, and respect for the rule of law and the governing principle of public office as a public trust.
I realise that the problem with benign rulers is that there is no guarantee of any checks or balances on their power. The problem with flawed democracies is the absence of the self-discipline and civic virtue that effective democratic government requires.
Building a strong democracy can take decades, and it can slide into reverse unless consciously kept moving. That is why we need a benevolent dictator, who understands that democracies must grow from within and that, for this to happen, citizens must enjoy rights but abide by rules and fulfil their responsibilities. We need someone who understands that power must come from the empowered majority, not from the party political privileged few, as we see now in our Rainbow Nation.
Let's hope President Cyril Ramaphosa will be our benign dictator for the next 10 years. After all, democracy must deliver more benefits to the people in order for them to continue believing in it.
• Mkhondo runs The Media and Writers Firm, a ghostwriting and content development, and reputation-management hub

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