Change the world


Prof Christi van der Westhuizen from Nelson Mandela University’s Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) is the co-editor of The D-Word – Perspectives on Democracy in Tumultuous Times, published by Mandela University Press.


Her collaborators are Dr Siphiwe Dube from the Department of Political Studies at University of the Witwatersrand and Prof Zwelethu Jolobe of the Department of Political Studies at University of Cape Town.

Prof Van der Westhuizen shared her views on this work.

What is the essence of the messages contained in this book?

As the title suggests, democracy is under such pressure that it has become stigmatised and even akin to a swearword for some. As a transdisciplinary collection of chapters, the book addresses the topic of democracy from many different angles.

But one can condense the message as being that democracy is still the least bad system of all possible systems of governance. We must find ways to advance economic inclusion and justice, as that would be the basis of a strong democracy.

We are also proud that the book is published with the new Mandela University Press, and that it has anendorsement from Prof Sandy Africa, who led the Expert Panel into the July 2021 Civil Unrest. She describes The D-Word as a ‘timely’ and ‘enriching, broad canvas of ideas’.

Why is this important now, considering the current state of democracy in South Africa and the world? 

Amid a proliferation of ‘crisis’ literature on democracy, The D-Word finds its distinctive niche in presenting perspectives from the global margins that bridge disciplinary, sectoral, national and conceptual divides.

South Africans enter into conversation with scholars and activists from elsewhere in the Global South, including the Arab world and the rest of Africa, and from the European periphery.

Our South African authors are from the universities of Witwatersrand, Cape Town, Western Cape and Free State, and from Mandela University and Rhodes University, and from the United Nations Development Programme, Equal Education and GenderDynamix. Our overseas authors hail from Uganda, Qatar, and Slovakia.

Insights on democracy are offered from a diversity of perspectives and voices, spanning philosophy, socio-legal and political studies, sociology, public administration, and queer and gender studies and activism.

How did you select the participants, i.e. why is their voices important?   

The contributors all presented papers at CANRAD’s 10th anniversary conference, which was international and held online. The conference combined presentations from scholars, activists and also scholar-activists. The idea behind this approach is to consider theory seriously but to also move beyond theory to politics and praxis.

Are there a few new insights from authors contributing to the general debate on democracy? 

Some chapters go into the nuts and bolts of democracy, such as the institutional dimension in the form of parliament, and how the accountability of politicians can be improved. Others tackle the law, looking into the limitations of politicians’ and courts’ interpretations causing the full potential of our constitutional democracy not to be realised.

Others are more philosophical, looking at the idea of democracy and how it can be enlarged, particularly for women. The notion of ‘queering democracy in Africa’ is put on the table for the first time.

Two chapters provide new insights on vernacular forms of democracy, with reference to the Kiswahili term mwananchi (citizen) in Uganda and the isiXhosa term inkululeko (freedom) in South Africa.

My chapter with co-editors Siphiwe Dube (far left) and Zwelethu Jolobe confronts the dismissal of the Constitution by some detractors who argue that it has not “delivered” and therefore should be done away with. We argue that this suggests some mysterious animating force in the Constitution that should deliver its promise in its fullness, thereby allowing such detractors and their followers to avoid progressive politics that is needed to actualise the Constitution.

Tell me more about your choice of the artist for the cover? 

We selected an artwork by the brilliant Gugulethu-born Ricky Dyaloyi, who is presented by Everard Read Gallery, and are very honoured indeed that he agreed. It is titled Sisonke, and depicts a group of people, gathered together but with each person discernibly distinctive.

The work speaks to connectedness and communality as hallmarks of democracy while referencing the uniqueness and value of each individual, another hallmark of democracy. The shadowy overtones are strikingly suggestive of the current “tumultuous times”.

How does this topic tie in with your work and that of CANRAD at the University?

Democracy is contained in the name, vision, aims and objectives of CANRAD. It was decided to focus on democracy for the 10th anniversary of CANRAD, as the previous big CANRAD conference addressed the question of race. This led to the conference titled ‘The State We’re In: Democracy’s Fractures, Fixes and Futures’ in 2021, which provided the impetus for The D-Word.

Who is the target audience and how can the general public engage with this book? 

The D-Word will be of interest to academics, activists, policymakers, development planners, and the public. In fact, anyone concerned about the current worldwide onslaught against democracy will find this book valuable. We will host various launches, so please follow CANRAD’s website, Facebook and X accounts for updates.

Contact information
Ms Elma de Koker
Internal Communication Practitioner
Tel: 041-504 2160