Module Two



"People shouldn't be afraid of their government.

Governments should be afraid of their people."

Alan Moore, writer. born 1953

Democracy is it !

Who asked for it anyway, and where does it come from?


So where does it all come from?

We now have some idea why democracy is so popular.  But how does it work, and where does it come from? And what does it have to with the ancient Greeks?  

The word itself comes from two Greek words:




                demos   (common people)   




          kratos   (power)




The Greeks seem to have it all …

Ancient Greece had a collection of city states – relatively small cities compared to the cities in this century. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, did research on the political activities of a number of Greek city states and also gave birth to the idea of democracyin 384-322 BC

Aristotleexpected as many people as possible to participate in the decision making processby attending public meetings and voting on issues (some countries, like Switzerland insist on this still to this day). 

He also demanded that public accounts – all details of how money was spent should be posted on the city gates for all to see. What a good idea!

This is called a Participatory Democracy, and works reasonably well in city states, or small communities.

If everyone is expected to attend every meeting and vote on every issue, what problems do you foresee?

Most modern states have found that this type of democracy causes too many problems, and have adapted the ideology of pure democracy so that we have what is known as a Representative Democracy.

In this system, because the common citizen is often too busy building a career and a family, he/she elects someone else to attend the meetings and vote on all the issues. 

In a sense the power is handed over to the Elected Representative.

Are you happy with the fact that you are handing over your power?  Are you happy that it means having someone else decide for you?





Can power be taken away again?

Why do some people not really believe or feel they have the power?

Does this system of representation really work?  Say how it might or might not work by giving details.


The Magna Carta:

The charter of English political and civil liberties granted by King John at Runnymede in June 1215[The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, © 1992 Houghton Mifflin Company]



King John of England found himself in serious trouble with his nobles because of heavy taxation; they felt vulnerable and forced the king to sign this document in 1215. The relationship between the king and his nobles was outlined in this text:

“no scutage (type of tax) or aid shall be imposed in our kingdom, unless by the common council of our kingdom, except to redeem our person, and to make our oldest son a knight, and once to marry our eldest daughter; and for this there shall be paid a reasonable aid.”



Details about civil liberties such as the freedom of the church, laws protecting subjects and towns and also rights to a free trial (before this, subjects could be convicted on rumour!), were either clearly laid out or hinted at.

This very famous document laid the foundation for the principle of no taxation without representation. 

And this was the very cry of the people in the American Civil War.

It gets more interesting - read on ...

The Boston Tea party - when will they learn?

The American colonists managed their own affairs up to 1765 – all costs involved were raised by the colonists themselves.  But then King George III of England decided to exercise his own authority and imposed certain taxes on them.  He raised an army to exercise this authority and used the income from these taxes to pay for it.  As you can imagine, the colonists, who were not represented in the British parliament, were very unhappy about this.






stamp duty – 1 penny to £10 on documents, pamphlets and newspapers

The colonists appealed to the Magna Carta, saying the crown had no right to charge them without representation in the British Parliament.  This tax was subsequently dropped.


Excise duty – wine, oil, lead, paper, paint, glass and tea

Objections once again, and Lord North, Minister of Finance at the time, abolished excise duty but imposed an import duty on tea – 3 pennies per pound. 


The famous Boston Tea Party

Colonists disguised as native American Indians boarded three ships in the harbour of Boston and threw £9,000 of tea into the water. (One can perhaps understand their need to cause civil disobedience, but how insulting it was to try to blame the native population!)


Many commentaries believe that this imposition of taxation without representation was one of the causes of the American Civil War.












Marie, Oh Marie ; just a little bread, please

Mary Antoinette, the queen of France and wife of the much loved, but weak king Louis XVI, is often seen as the worst kind of monarch. When told that the people were starving and did not have bread to eat, she is reported as saying, “Give them cake.” 

“The stories of Antoinette's (financial) excesses are vastly overstated. In fact, rather than ignoring France's growing financial crisis, she reduced the royal household staff, eliminating many unnecessary positions that were based solely on privilege. In the process she offended the nobles, adding their condemnation to the scandalous stories spread by royal hopefuls, including the Duc' D'Orleans, whose son became Louis XVIII. It was the nobility that balked at the financial reforms the government ministers tried to make, not the King and Queen, who were in favor of change.” © 1995-98 Lucid Interactive.

Whatever the truth, the people of France wanted a democracy, cut off her daughter’s head and paraded it in front of her, then they cut off her head and that of her husband. The famous French Revolution forever changed the way we see government.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité    (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”)


What have we learnt about the three main historical events that brought about democracy?  

What were the people really saying?

If you imagined that you were visiting or living in a perfect democracy, what would you expect to find within that ideology in modern political and everyday terms?


Try not to proceed, until you have thought about this...

Why Don't You Decide....?

Once a country and its people have decided how they would like their democracy to work, a constitution is usually drawn up.

What do you think is important in a democracy in which people have the say, have rights, have representation?

Think of the law, power, etc...

Write down principles you think are important ...















Okay, so humour is probably not specified as a constitutional right, but it does help...!

Did you come up with good ideas?

Perhaps you need some help to decide; check out this video; it is very good...









Have you finished your list?

If you have, scroll down to see what most countries consider really important...






















True Signposts of Democracy:


all individuals should be valued equally, and should not be discriminated against.  Does this mean that all people are created equal? Perhaps not, but they should be treated equally, and should be given equal opportunity for sure...

human rights

democracies should respect basic human rights, often entrenched in the constitution and or bill of rights; they might include the right to expression, education, health, etc.

multi-party system, regular free and fair elections; political tolerance

most democracies have more than one party – an opposition is sometimes misunderstood.  It is the job of the opposition to make sure the government of the day makes the correct decisions; most of all it is they who must keep the government accountable.

the rule of law

no one is above the law, neither a king nor a president; everyone needs to obey the law, and the ‘due process of law’  means that it should be applied equally to everyone.

the bill of rights & the constitution

all parties – individuals and the government itself obeys the constitution.  Our constitutional court is sometimes called upon to judge whether laws passed in parliament obey the bill of rights.

economic freedom

laissez-faire: you remember this?  -  private ownership and business operation; freedom to choose work and join unions. Most democracies attempt to adopt a free market approach, with as little control of the economy as possible.

accountability & transparency

some people believe this is the most important aspect of a democracy; if what people really care about is their personal wealth, they will be particularly interested in knowing what happens to their taxes. Are the elected officials spending the money on services for the voters, or on themselves? There is a difference between public accountability and accountability – this is dealt with in detail below.

control of the abuse of power

most democracies put into place institutions, people or bodies to check activities; in short, to watch out for corruption.  The Public Protector;  The Attorney-General and the Public Accounts Committee are good examples. Have you heard of them?  Do you know what they do? 

citizen participation

do you participate; if not, why not? Does the government give us time, the structures, the opportunity to do so?  Would you like to vote on every issue, most issues, important issues only? What about the death sentence – a good democracy should not have one – this is why our government has banned it. But what if most of the people demand one? In Switzerland citizens of each town are required to personally vote on issues such as a new principal at the local school, a new bridge. If they do not take part x-number of times a year, they are fined. This is more of a direct participation, rather than a representative democratic system. Do you prefer it? It would certainly give you more control ...

you don't have to vote on every issue to take part; simply being aware of your rights, accountability of officials, what is happening with various services, reading responsible media and knowing what your government is doing with YOUR money is also taking part. What can you do to reduce the 18 000 murders taking place in SA? The 1000 road deaths per month? Corruption of elected officials, some time ago, was so much, if stopped it could pay for the entire education budget - are you aware of these issues, and how you can help other people become aware? - the more voices, the more the government will listen ...

Support initiatives such as We, The People for instance. And also the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, CASAC.


Now - some work for you - draw or illustrate the relationship between you, a citizen within a democracy, and elected officials – the members of parliament, for example. Try to include the following:

the word - ideology;


an elected official;

the word - power;

the Constitution...

Use these to show the relationship between them - how they fit together. How does power relate to a member of the public and an elected official, for instance? Where does the Constitution fit in? Take the time to fill an whole page using all of the elements/terms I have given you


Good luck.






When you think you've got it right. Click here.

But only when you have really tried, and not before...

What else besides power/authority do we give the government of the day?





P.J. O'Rourke, US poet, journalist.


Do you think the above quotation is true, or does it merely act as a warning?

How can we trust elected officials to spend the money effectively?

Can you remember what they did in the Greek City states?


The one element of democracy that holds the entire process together so that the people can trust the representative, and the representative can feel that he or she is empowered to carry out the mandate and spend the money given to the government by you, is the concept of ……….





Only with this essential element of democracy in place can things begin to work.

There is a difference between accountability and public accountability; what is it?

Think about this; write down the difference and then debate this if you're doing this course in class.

















An individual should be accountable to himself or his/her boss, family for instance.

But a public official is accountable to ...?

S/he should be, both, accountable to themselves, their superiors, their institutions AND to the voters, citizens and members of the public.

Ushering In The Age Of Accountability: here a spokesperson for The Institute of Internal Auditors South Africa (IIA SA) speaking about Public Accountability of ministries and Elected Officials ...






List a few democratic financial principles you think should be in place to make sure that your money is used effectively and efficiently.

Scroll down only when you've finished.








Hint: public accountability is, of course, one of them...



















Democratic Principles For Public Financial Control:


Ethical situation and debate - over to YOU!

here are some examples of difficult situations - think of your own and challenge your group to solving them...

  1. no tax or other charge can be collected from taxpayers without their consent.

people complain that they are not asked directly about paying tax. Many people say they pay a very high tax and do not receive adequate benefits compared to other countries; for example many communities feel it necessary to have private security, when this, ideally should be provided by the state.

  1. the tax burden must be distributed in a reasonable and fair way.  A government should not tax only one section of a community and not another.

the successful businessperson pays 14% VAT, company tax, and another 40% personal tax – he/she says it is unfair that some people in the informal sector pay only 14% VAT because they do not declare their income, and in fact if they earn less than R63 000 a year, they don't even have to declare their income!

  1. democracy means direct or indirect participationby the taxpayers and users of public services:  this is usually done through an El…………..    Rep……………  .
you decide that it is not enough that someone you elect makes all the decisions for you; how would you like to become more involved, so that you have more say as to how funds are spent?
  1. financial resources should be spent effectively and efficiently to satisfy collective needs of the public; this means that we demand that there be a reasonable allocation of funds, and that they should be spent wisely.
there is a slight difference between these two words; give instances of what they mean by using examples of effective/ineffective and efficient or inefficient ways in which funds have or can be spent.
  1. only the collective body of elected political representativeshas the authority to introduce taxes, to collect taxes, and to decide how they shall be spent.  This is one of the primary functions of parliament – it should never delegate this authority to lower bodies such as the cabinet, local councils, or individuals, etc.
the provincial MCs and Premiers demand that each province should be able to collect and benefit from it’s own taxes. Gauteng complains that it collects the most revenue and does not receive the same proportion from central government. If this happens Gauteng and the Western Cape will offer far better services than the other provinces.
  1. accountability of the elected political representatives to the taxpayers for the collection & spending of taxes and other income: public accountability. Those elected into office need to follow this principle so as to engender trust with their constituents. Authority over public money should always be a sacred trust. Once this trust is broken, a government can quickly become ineffective, and the people might begin to refuse to pay tax.

a minister travels overseas, while she is away officials in her department commit fraud and steal millions; should she resign? 

a politician/ministry uses money to fund a project in a neighbouring country because they helped us fight Apartheid. It will mean that people go without certain health-care or housing, so they do not tell anyone; when a journalist finds out and wants to expose the story, he is warned to keep quiet.


  1. political representatives  must be sensitive to the collective needsof the community. 


the government ignores the desperate need for housing, but instead spends money on sophisticated defense force weapons in order to remain the most powerful country in Africa.
  1. the execution of public spending is done through the budget and budget programmes. This budget is announced and debated in public (by the Minister of Finance in February each year). It should satisfy the ideological aspirations of the government, which in turn shouldmeet the needs of the people. The budget itself is used to gauge what the particular department intends spending on services.


even though there remains debate about the effectiveness and efficiency of every budget, this extremely important event is seldom if ever neglected by any democratic government.
  1. social equity or justice - all decisions should be based on fairness and great care should be taken to ensure that as many people as possible benefit.  No action should be taken that will advance one group or individual more than another; no group of people should feel they are disadvantaged while another group benefits to a greater extent.


a minister of a department awards a tender contract to his brother worth millions – his argument is that someone must be awarded the contract anyway, why not him? He was disadvantaged, after all. 

home owners in one suburb have far better services than home owners in another part of a city – they argue that they pay more than 12 times more rates and taxes.


  1. all activities regarding public financial management must take place in public and not under the cover of confidentiality.


the government uses public funds to help another government in some secret way – it believes that the SA public will not understand why and so does not tell us.




Ralph W. Emerson. US essayist, philosopher.


If you take a good look at the Signposts of Democracy and also to the Democratic Principles for Financial Control and management, one can see that while the ideals of democracy are essential – equality, liberty, justice for all, freedom of speech, etc., much of what the government does and does not do comes down to money. Whether they provide services or not (housing, water, education, etc.) all depends on whether they have the money.   

After our taxes have been paid, and someone wastes the money, spends it on something that does not benefit us, the spending has not been carried out according to those principles. And this means that some community will go short: it's money out of your pockets.

We should do something about it. It is not enough to expect the government to act alone. 

Our famous Constitution and Bill of Rights are not an instruction to the government to do things for us, they are signposts, instructions and guidelines for us to act also. Act by taking part and being aware ...


The constitution cannot work unless we make it work. You.  Do it today.  Find out how an efficient democracy works, and make sure those around you know too.



Someone once said that every country gets the government it deserves.

Remember that a bad government is in power only because the people put it there.





A former US president, Theodore Roosevelt, affectionately known as Teddy, once said the following:





I believe that if every citizen of any country truly understood this, the country would run more effectively.











You have completed

Module Two


how did you do?


In Module Three we

will be taking

a look at the services our

elected officials provide us with.

Are they

the services you want or expected?




Let's go there...