To my mind
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. ¤