To my mind

Finweek English Edition - - Letters - BY RIKUS DEL­PORT rikusd@fin­week.co.za

WHY DO PEO­PLE re­sort to pe­ti­tions? For the same rea­son that they take the law into their own hands or protest. They are frus­trated be­cause the au­thor­i­ties are blind to their prob­lems.

This frus­tra­tion oc­curs at all lev­els of so­ci­ety, re­gard­less of whether it’s the peo­ple liv­ing in res­i­den­tial ar­eas who mete out pun­ish­ment to crim­i­nals them­selves be­cause they’ve lost faith in the le­gal sys­tem or whether it’s busi­ness­men who use their fi­nan­cial clout to put up pub­lic pe­ti­tions to en­cour­age the masses to ac­tion.

It’s only nat­u­ral for a vic­tim of crime to want to see jus­tice done or for a tax­payer who’s mis­treated by of­fi­cials to want to re­sort to a higher author­ity. The pres­i­dent of a coun­try is of­ten on the re­ceiv­ing end of this frus­tra­tion, be­cause he’s re­garded as the high­est author­ity, the only per­son who can re­ally make a dif­fer­ence to the un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion.

Even though he’s not the per­son who’s di­rectly re­spon­si­ble, he is af­ter all the head of State and ul­ti­mately bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for law and or­der. He’s also sup­posed to ap­point of­fi­cials who can han­dle th­ese things re­spon­si­bly on his be­half. How­ever, peo­ple lose faith in of­fi­cials, be­cause their com­plaints are dis­re­garded. There are var­i­ous rea­sons for this, but if of­fi­cials, like Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, can’t be called to ac­count, a demo­cratic sys­tem can’t func­tion prop­erly.

It would make an enor­mous dif­fer­ence if the vot­ing pub­lic could elect MPs, and even the Pres­i­dent, di­rectly, and it wasn’t left, as is the case now, to party mem­bers to nom­i­nate them. Wouldn’t this make MPs and also the Pres­i­dent more ac­count­able to a larger por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion? All that they have to do in the present sys­tem to en­sure that they’re re-elected – and en­joy all the ben­e­fits that go along with it – is to en­sure that they re­main in the good books of their party lead­ers. They are not ac­count­able to the vot­ers. It’s this lack of ac­count­abil­ity that must be blamed for the re­volt against author­ity.

When a young man held an of­fi­cial of Home Af­fairs hostage be­cause of his frus­tra­tion at hav­ing to wait an end­lessly long time for his iden­tity doc­u­ments, it was be­cause he could see no other so­lu­tion. A per­son has to be driven be­yond rea­son be­fore he’ll act so rashly. Such a feel­ing of pow­er­less­ness is born from the frus­tra­tion caused by the lack of proper chan­nels to di­rect griev­ances.

The Pres­i­dent’s im­bi­zos might be a good idea for some, es­pe­cially for those in­ter­ested in im­age build­ing. How­ever, whether they’re re­ally good enough to rid peo­ple of their frus­tra­tions is an open ques­tion. As South Africans, we talk a lot and hold end­less meet­ings and con­fer­ences, but lit­tle of that leads to any ac­tion to im­prove or­di­nary peo­ple’s con­di­tions.

It’s in­ter­est­ing that many of us, de­spite tech­nol­ogy that has led to an in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­plo­sion, have never com­mu­ni­cated with MPs, who are, af­ter all, meant to be our rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Many vot­ers have no idea who they can turn to. For this, the sys­tem of pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion must, of course, get the blame. Gov­ern­ment has al­ready ap­pointed a com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate it, and rec­om­men­da­tions were made. The time has come to dust them off.

Pub­lic opin­ion, once it gains mo­men­tum, has in the past suc­ceeded in wiping out over­con­fi­dent gov­ern­ments. It’s not im­pos­si­ble for the same thing to hap­pen in SA. Our his­tory has shown what can hap­pen if some­thing that has a small be­gin­ning and is ig­nored by the au­thor­i­ties starts sim­mer­ing and even­tu­ally ex­plodes.

A stable gov­ern­ment does not sim­ply dis­miss the fears of its peo­ple. ¤

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