Of the many discussions among scholars and public intellectuals, there is probably none that is so confusing, misunderstood, (interchangeably) abused as modernity, modernization and modernism. Anyone can at any time be tied to an ideological program and / or condemned as a fig leaf for some kind of large exploitative conspiracy.
What I want to do is use the term âmodernismâ for something of my own and use it as a the processes who “free people from the circumstances that enslave them”. In this regard, modernity is breaking with some outdated practices and traditions that are retrograde and hold society back.
Vaccination rejection is kind of part of it because it by and large rejects science and some of the anti-Vaxx snake oil traders are – regardless of the advances in science that have eradicated so many diseases in the last century. The other embrace of “traditionalism” as opposed to modernism that secular democracy brings with it is the emergence of a mild theocratic movement in South Africa and an increasing retreat into the comfort or safety zones of ethnic or racial traditionalism. Either way – the anti-vaccination and the slow drip of theocratic thought and practice – there is a risk that South Africa will stray from Republican constitutionality and fray into several strands of the fabric of a rather disturbing rug.
The thought of being proud of one’s ethnic heritage is relatively harmless until it is used as a weapon for exclusion and exceptionality. The drop of religious traditions is of greater importance and should be stopped before it reaches a torrent.
The role of formal religion and the church in a constitutional democracy
A recent development – over the past decade or so – has been the formation of political parties devoted to particular religious doctrines. Most notable are the African Christian Democratic Party and Al Jama-ah. Both parties are seeking support with a corresponding focus on Christian and Muslim sentiments.
That seems harmless in the sense that in a democracy you can choose who you want. However, there is a danger when, as has been reported for the past two weeks, former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng would like to run for president in the year 2024, “if God wants it”.
Couple this with the growth of large charismatic churches and pastors across South Africa, of which Shepherd Bushiri of the Enlightened Christian Gathering Church was the most shameful. Let’s put aside a moment his growing financial problems.
Now add the clearly anti-scientific traditionalism of Zwelinzima Vavi from 2015, after the excavation of Homo naledi, when he announced on social media that “no one is going to dig up old monkey bones to support a theory that I was once a baboon … I’m not a grandson of a monkey, monkey or baboon – done” de clear. Now prove to me scientifically that it is me. “
And then there are the sacrosanct “traditional healers,” the abundance of “traditional leaders,” and the alignment of Kings and royalties with political parties. All of this could turn into a witch’s brew that is caustic to any progressive polity the country has been heading for since the early 1990s.
Secular progressive democracy is the way forward
Mogoeng is known for saying, “I am ready to do whatever the Lord wants me to do”; that he was waiting for a signal from his God and at the request of Joe Mojapelo of the Independent Citizens Movement that the former chief judge led them, affirmed: “Yes, if it were me, I would … But let God decide who it should be … [if] God wants me to do it, I accept. “
While Al Jama-ah has little or no chance of ever getting 10% of the vote, and the ACDP is likely to scrape off more than 10%, this retreat into faith-based politics is detrimental to democracy. Political leaders should ideally avoid the anti-modern turnaround (modernism as defined above) and break once and for all the growing appeal of belief-based politics. The only way that progress can be made is for South Africa to strengthen its secular progressive democracy and to alert the media to the dangers of theocratic rule.
Embedded “traditionalism” is deeply rooted in South Africa. The Mpumalanga Supreme Court heard last month how a 13-year-old girl with albinism was abducted from her home in Hlalanikahle, Emalahleni in 2018. Your private parts, heart, skull and pieces of fat were used to make muti that the killers believed would make them rich.
A research project published by Forensic Science International found that in southern Africa, human body parts are sometimes used for medical purposes – so-called muti-murders. One such murder was uncovered when the remains of two people were found in a traditional healer’s home. Osteological analysis indicated that the remains likely belonged to a young adult male and an adolescent.
Other Wits University research project found that “some traditional healers have adopted the practice of using human body parts in muti” and that they believed “that different human body parts have different ‘powers'”.
Between the retreat from republicanism – a political system that protects emancipation by anchoring a rule of law that cannot be arbitrarily ignored by a government – and secularism, coupled with the persistence of âtraditionalâ customs, South Africa faces a challenge Democracy and modernization, which (at least according to the Frankfurt School) should help us to “break out of the circumstances that enslave us”.
We should be aware of the dangers posed by theocratic rule in places like Iran or religious fascism as expressed by Hindutva in India (which is different from Hinduism), and the persecution of groups of people who are by the one or other religious beliefs are sanctified.
Personally, I like to admit that religion and morals rarely address the real world successfully or even practically. DM