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Systems of Governance

Dictionary of SA Elections 2014

by Willem Boshoff


Government by “white” men or Europeans. The most notorious albocracy in history ended in South Africa in 1994. “White” government is significantly ascribed to “men” in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Pertaining to the puffed up bulges of flesh, or the inflated mounds of cellulite called anasacra. Disraeli, the statesman, spoke with disdain of the anasacra of complacent and self-indulgent politicians.
A government by the wealthy; the rule or absolute importance of money, from Latin, argentum, for “silver”. Plutocrats and argentocrats are politicians that govern a country as if it is a profit-making business.
A bashing into something like a ram. Special battering rams were used to arietate doors, but today, political opponents have the nasty habit of arietating into each other at every turn. In Latin, aries is a “ram”.
A public disgrace befalling important people. In atimy the newspaper and the television are the vehicles that ensure miscreant leaders are officially stripped of civil liberties. In Greek atimos means “dishonoured”.


A showing off to an audience with noise, boastful talk and theatrical effect. Schoolboys, ministers of religion and politicians can barnumize excessively. Phineas Barnum was an American circus owner.
To talk nonsense or claptrap. The US Congress member for Buncombe County, North Carolina once made a famous speech full of baloney and now many politicians specialise in buncome, better known as bunkum or bunk.


A place where it looks as if things can’t get worse, yet continue to do so; the opposite of eutopia. The apartheid government of South Africa was accused of creating a notorious cacotopia.
claqueur, claquer
A member of a claque, or group of applauders. Claqueurs are an enterprising group, they rent themselves out to the theatre or political meetings, where they applaud supportingly. In French, claquer is “to clap”.
The rule of a greedy and oppressive class. Cormorants are beautiful birds in flight, but in their nesting colonies they brawl over food. Opportunists are cormorants. In Latin, the corvus marinus is a “sea raven”.
A chorus leader and hence someone who heads a party, school of thought, or a crew. Every generation needs a coryphæus of critical scepticism that leads the drive to re-evaluate what politicians are saying.
Any unspecified instrument for measuring power. The opinion poll is the cratometer for measuring political power before an election and cratometric devices measure the various forces of nature and the power of man.
A secret government. One often does not know the real rulers of one’s country, and a cryptarchial group, usually one with lots of money, can call the shots. In Greek kryptos is “secret” and archos, a “ruler”.


A certificate or bill reflecting large official debts and the interests due. State departments, governments, armies and large corporations are debentured for goods received or services rendered after a specified period.
A word that American politicians are especially fond of for an emotional appeal to the uneducated mobs or to the general population. A demagogue is an agitator of the populace, someone resorting to unfair demagoguery.
Someone who worships the common people. The way some politicians carry on just to win votes makes you think they are demomaniac rather than demolaters. A dreadful fear of mobs is called demophobia.
A government by slaves. In time, American liberation movements freed black slaves from their slavemasters and with their acquired political power those “slaves” subjected much of that country to dulocratical rule.


A rare word for unruliness. Children left to their own devices can be terribly effrenate or effrenable – they are ungovernable, and so too can be very serious passions. In Latin a frenum is a “bridle”.
An imaginary leader who sets one’s country, or the oppressed in it, free. The ancient Greek eleutheri were an imaginary secret society fighting for freedom. Zeus is the eleutherian, a protector of political freedom.
A process of social conversion in which someone becomes exactly the opposite of what they were. In an enantiodromial turnabout of a nonbeliever, a criminal or political activist, new insights are crucial.
ethnagogue, ethnarch
The ruler of a specific nation or race. In Greek an ethnos is a “nation” and the ancient Greeks were proud of their ethnagogues, but South Africa’s ethnarchy of the past only emphasised skin as an indicator of race.


An American term for the tendency of shifting the borders of election areas in order to favour a certain political party. One can also gerrymander any other conditions by manipulating them to gain an unfair advantage.
A most unusual word for a government by one or more very old women. We, in South Africa, had a graocracy in the province of Mpumalanga where the Rain Queen, Modjaji had, for many generations, reigned supreme.


From Kenya, a Swahili word for pulling or working together, for cooperation – often the mainstay of self-help schemes. Harambee became the slogan of Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya African National Union (KANU) government at the time of Kenya’s independence.


A rare term for barking, especially a “barking” or scoffing by a person in protest against something unjust or annoying. We illatrate against an unfair government or its harmful laws. In Latin latrare is “to bark”.
A state of protection and safety in which one is free from danger or shortage. Many countries have a “public protector” who tests the government for wrongdoing, thus guaranteeing the citizens a fair degree of incolumity.


A government by the worst citizens. Power and money and the corruption that these bring have often turned well-intended governments into kakistocracies. In Greek kakistos is “the worst” and kratia to “rule”.
A Tswana entry in the Oxford English Dictionary denoting a council of African elders or the place of their assembly. As a traditional form of local government the kgotla often tries criminals and prescribes the necessary punishment.
The rule of thieves and brigands. If South Africa does not succeed in bringing down its crime rate and if the police force becomes more corrupt, we will have a kleptocracy like the one that has Somalia in its grip.


Organised resistance to the authority of the police and government. The word was first applied to an uprising of local Filipino citizens. In Scotland ladrone, from the Spanish ladron, is a word of scorn for an outlaw or villain.
A person who derives political power or influence from the fact that he or she owns property in the country. The class that make up the landocracy in parliament are often mentioned in the same breath as the moneyocracy.
A system of government in which words are in charge. A logocracy is not always believed to be a good thing. If a government is all talk and nothing ever happens, it is a pure, unadulterated logocracy – a government of words only.
The lowest social order of people with no political concerns. Lumpen means “boorish”, “stupid”. Karl Marx first identified the lumpenproletarians as a class in their own right in 1850, in his Die Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich.


marque An old word for the pledge of a nation to seize land or other assets from an enemy in reprisal. A letter of marque is issued by a ruler, authorising his subjects to seize goods like treasures and ships from an offending country.
A government or institution controlled by the middle classes. Rugby seems to be the domain of mesocratic control and cricket of the aristocracy. A mesocratic rock is dominated by a mixture of nottoo- dark, not-too-light minerals.
In law, misconduct or negligence by government officials. In general, misprision is a felony, but it can also be contempt or scorn, especially for valuable things. One often misprises home values. In Old French a -prision is a mistake.


The ideology that political power should be shared by the masses. The narodniks originated in the 1860s as intellectuals who worked for the upgrading and enablement of working classes. In Russian narod is “people”.


A state of affairs where the newspapers and literature, especially propagandistic literature, appear to rule one’s life or the general flow of things. Papyrophobia is a dread of paper, principally of having to fill in forms.
The unfair rule of men over women; also, the general dictation of social principles by homosexuals. The typical phallocrat is a man, whether straight or gay, who argues supremacy over women because of his masculinity.
philoplutonic, philoplutary
One with a great regard for money and material things. If it depended on philoplutonics, the world would be ruled by the wealthy, after all they can afford to put things right! In Greek ploutos is “riches”.
A form of tribal government, with a phylarch being the chief leader. A phyle is a clan or tribe based on family ties. Although it dates back to ancient Greece we still find phylic rule in undeveloped parts of the world.
The privileged rule of the wealthy. There was a time when the rich were entitled to abuse the poor and to speak out against such excess was considered to be a crime against the plousiocracy. In Greek the plousios is “the rich”.
poplocracy, popocracy
The rule or policy of the common people – the “populace”. The Populists or People’s Party actually existed in the United States in the 19th century. The party disbanded when it joined the Democrats.
A female prevaricator, one who speaks or acts evasively, misleadingly – who prevaricates or deceives. In Latin prævaricari is “to walk crookedly” from varicare, to “spread the legs apart” and varus, “knock-kneed”.
A close and private friend, a confidant. Leaders often need privados or favourites to talk to when they face a crisis. A privity is a secret thing or a mystery – the Apocalypse in the Bible is also called the book of privity.
To chase or drive away; to drive out in front. A cowherd profugates cattle and certain political parties have a strange vision of profugating those who do not agree with them into the sea. In Latin fugare is “to put to flight”.
A form of government decided by elections. The Greeks invented the ballot box when they voted with the psephos or “pebble”. In psephology we study elections and voting and a psephologist is an electoral scientist or analyst.


Someone who takes advantage of an influential body established by the government in the private sector. The quango is neither the civil service nor is it private – it stands for quasi non-governmental organisation.


An alteration of plans, a complete change of mind or attitude. Political revirements, when too many of them happen too often, are not to be trusted. In Old French virer is “to turn” and revirer “to swing back decisively”.
A false report or slanderous story, especially one published for political gain. Beware of roorbacks on the eve of an election. The word was invented in 1844 when blatant lies were printed from the socalled travels of Baron Roorback.


Living luxuriously while exercising cruelty. One living in comfort while being a dictator is a satrap, A woman tyrant enjoying life is a satrapess. The satraps were governors of the provinces in ancient Persia or Babylon.
One who starts a schism or break-up in an organisation or movement. Some schismarchs like John Calvin and Martin Luther are the founders of lasting orders. In Greek a schisma is a “split or cleft” and an archos a “ruler”.
sillographist, sillographer
The author of clever satire, scoffs, taunts and revilings. Sillographists are politically wellinformed, but display a healthy sense of cynicism and distrust. In Greek a sillos is a “satirical poem” or “lampoon”.
A power-sharing by leaders or different political groups. South Africa, when it first became a democracy, tried synarchy for a while, but it didn’t really work. In Greek synarchein is “to rule jointly”, In Greek synarchein is “to rule jointly”, from arkhos – “power”.


Outdated communist political jargon for the tendency to please and pamper the masses. The leader who shows tailism is no leader at all; he or she is the follower of public opinion rather than the guiding light who shows initiative.
Strong-handed control over a city by a political set-up. Tammany control by bosses and their henchmen goes back to the end of the 19th century, to Tammany Hall, New York, the headquarters of the Democratic Party.
A word invented in the 18th century for a fear of reading nasty, sordid things, especially about oneself. Is taphinophoby one of the requirements of being a good politician? In Greek tapeinos is “low” and “base”.


A name whereby prominent black politicians and businessmen are teased – they tend to show off their success by driving a Mercedes Benz car. The Oxford English Dictionary says wabenzi means the “Mercedes Benz tribe”.


Rigorous control by the state over cultural issues and the arts. The Russian politician Andrey Dhzanov put decrees in place in 1947 that made it impossible for artists to be critical of Soviet achievement or to use discordant elements.

Willem Boshoff is a Johannesburg based artist and former head of the Department of Fine Art of the Technikon Witwatersrand (now University of Johannesburg).




This story first ran in The Chronic: Graphic Stories (July 2014), the focus is on graphic stories; comic journalism. Blending illustrations, photography, written analysis, infographics, interviews, letters and more, visual narratives speak of everyday complexities in the Africa in which we live.

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