It’s local election time in South Africa. Politicians are once again peddling their promises. One such politician the other day kept on referring to the fact that we live in a multicultural society, and that therefore, decisions can only be made after listening very carefully to all sides.
This principle needs to be lauded and praised. After all, consultation of this nature, particularly in a multicultural society, is at the heart of democracy. But there are difficulties. When consultation leads to paralysis in decision making, it’s in danger of losing its innate value.
The consultation going on around the Muslim Marriages Bill is a case in question. The South African Justice Departmernt, a while back, once again extended the deadline for comments on the Muslim Marriages Bill. Now this would’ve have been wonderfully consultative and accommodating, if the first draft hadn’t been published 10 years ago – yep, you heard right, 10 years ago. And after all, it only centres around that nasty bit of business of women being given equal rights, and this in a country who now has one of the finest constitutions in the world, after an extremely painful history of oppression and injustice.
Of course the ultimate test in all this is whether the supreme authority over the lives of Muslim women and children will be vested in fundamentalist clerical bodies, or in the constitution of our land.
When does consultation cease and decision making kick in? Can listening to all sides eventually cause deafness to everything? Perhaps there’s a tinge of truth in the words of Oscar Wilde: “The man who sees both sides of a question is a man who sees absolutely nothing at all.” Or is that stretching it a bit?