Majority Rule was a Foreign Notion


    Majority Rule was a Foreign Notion

    My later notions of leadership were profoundly influenced by observing the regent and his court. I watch and learned from the tribal meetings that were regularly held at the Great Place. These were not scheduled, but were called as needed, and were held to discuss national matters such as a drought, the culling of cattle, policies ordered by the magistrate, or new laws decreed by the government. All Thembus were free to come – and a great many did, on horseback or by foot.

    On these occasions, the regent was surrounded by his amphakathi, a group of councillors of high rank who function as the regent’s parliament and judiciary. They were wise men who retained the knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinion carried great weight.

    Letters advising these chiefs and headmen of a meeting were dispatched from the regent, and soon the Great Place became alive with important visitors and travellers from all over Thambuland. The guests would gather at the courtyard in front of the regent’s house and he would open the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.

    Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, the chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landlord and labourer. People spoke without interruption and the meetings lasted for many hours. The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinion and equal in their value as citizens. (Women, I am afraid, were deemed second-class citizens)

    A great banquet was served during the day, and I often gave myself a bellyache by eating too much while listening to speaker after speaker. I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. I grasped how others came to the matter at had directly, and who made a set of augments succinctly and cogently. I observed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language, and tried to move the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sobered and even, and shunned emotion.

    First was astonishing by the vehemence and candor with which people criticize the regent. He was not above criticism in fact, he was often the principal target of it. But no matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all.

    Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. Minority were not being crushed by the majority.

    Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the regent speak. The purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced to the throat of who disagreed. If no agreement could be reached, another meeting would be held.

    I always remember the regent’s axiom; a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the other follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.

    culled from: Long Walk to Freedom



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