We need to re­claim our stolen democ­racy


THOSE who un­der­stand our elec­toral sys­tem will con­cede that while we ex­ist in a democ­racy, we are far from demo­cratic.

For the past 15 years, I have been scream­ing for a re­vamp of our Con­sti­tu­tion in terms of how we elect pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives, but with lit­tle sup­port and alarm­ing in­dif­fer­ence, such screams were muf­fled by those whose vi­sion and acu­men – or gross lack thereof – be­trayed the re­al­ism that in­deed our democ­racy is merely a smoke­screen ca­ressed by the de­sire for power.

How many cit­i­zens even know the names of par­lia­men­tar­i­ans rep­re­sent­ing them? Bet­ter still, how many cit­i­zens even know the name, let alone hav­ing seen, their lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lor?

These pub­lic of­fi­cials are more of­ten than not con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence, and there is a com­plete lack of con­sul­ta­tion with the elec­torate and the com­mu­nity in terms of ac­count­abil­ity and de­liv­ery.

Herein lies per­haps our great­est folly as the elec­torate, as the vote­har­vest­ing sea­son ap­proaches, ring­ing omi­nous bells of déjà vu.

We will be ha­rassed, ca­joled, pam­pered, fed and promised the world by chants and slo­gans, meant only to lure us into a for­saken be­lief that our “X” on the bal­lot pa­per will make all the dif­fer­ence for a bet­ter and pros­per­ous life.

We will each be in­vited to be­come a cit­i­zen again – and to play a role of pa­tri­otic al­le­giance. Af­ter all, the last time we were “pa­tri­otic” was five years ago when we blindly voted for a party we thought would make all the dif­fer­ence.

And so be­gan our woes for an­other half a decade.

Our pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion sys­tem of elect­ing pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives at na­tional and pro­vin­cial lev­els has long past its ex­piry date, whereby we, the cit­i­zens, “elect” a po­lit­i­cal party and they, in turn, “se­lect” their com­rades/friends/ fam­i­lies/po­ten­tial busi­ness part­ners/ un­in­ter­ested ca­reer politi­cians/ in­flu­en­tial party bosses and the like, which vi­ti­ates the true ethos of fair, just and ac­count­able gov­er­nance.

All this in the name of democ­racy!

What a load of hog­wash! A gov­ern­ment of, by and for the peo­ple should mean ex­actly that, and is ver­i­ta­bly called a democ­racy. Noth­ing more, noth­ing less.

Yet we yield painfully to per­haps the most un­fair means to place in po­si­tion pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are not cho­sen by the peo­ple, who lack po­lit­i­cal vi­sion and acu­men, and who are a pa­thetic ex­cuse for pub­lic of­fi­cials; and a good ma­jor­ity see it as an op­por­tu­nity for self­en­rich­ment.

For­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma best rep­re­sents the cat­a­strophic con­se­quences of “elect­ing” a com­man­der-in-chief who was not the peo­ple’s choice, as he fid­dled and fum­bled with our lives with al­most dis­as­trous im­punity, ridi­cul­ing ac­count­abil­ity at will.

The far­ci­cal fact is that about 5000 del­e­gates of the rul­ing party, who are con­strained by many fac­tors that cre­ate un­due in­flu­ences, both in­trin­sic and ex­trin­sic, can­not claim to rep­re­sent the wishes of 55 mil­lion peo­ple, what­ever way we wish to ar­gue the point.

Our Con­sti­tu­tion, with re­gards to our Elec­toral Act, has ex­hausted many as­pects, which was only nec­es­sary to fa­cil­i­tate a tran­si­tion and main­tain peace on that fate­ful au­tumn day in April 1994.

Since then, we have wit­nessed de­gen­er­a­tive gov­er­nance, com­mis­sions of in­quiry that yield very lit­tle by way of change, cor­rupt and inept par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, ram­pant nepo­tism and crony­ism, a de­clin­ing ed­u­ca­tional and health sec­tor, po­lit­i­cal thug­gery, lack of trans­parency, di­min­ish­ing ac­count­abil­ity, al­most trea­sonous con­duct of pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives and a whole plethora of acts or omis­sions thereof that de­plete the value and worth of our bur­geon­ing democ­racy.

Racism, for ex­am­ple, which was used as a weapon in the days of apartheid, has be­come a weapon of choice by the cur­rent gov­ern­ment to in­voke in­sid­i­ous op­tions such as job reser­va­tion, nepo­tism, crony­ism and the like, fur­ther re-af­firm­ing a need for change.

Why the rea­son for a con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion?

The rea­son is sim­ple. The mo­ment we “elect” a proxy to de­ter­mine our fu­ture, we cede our rights to the im­per­fec­tion of hu­man fal­li­bil­ity and frailty that trump true peo­ple power and in­gra­ti­ate those un­wor­thy of pub­lic ser­vice to ech­e­lons of power, who in turn de­stroy and pil­lage the real tenets of true democ­racy.

For this rea­son alone, we need a sys­tem whereby pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are di­rectly elected by the peo­ple so that they are di­rectly ac­count­able to the peo­ple and not to their party bosses or those whose in­ternecine in­ter­ests they serve.

This will go a long way in al­le­vi­at­ing lengthy and costly lit­i­ga­tion in hav­ing such mis­cre­ants of pub­lic ser­vice re­moved from of­fice, sav­ing the tax­payer bil­lions but, more im­por­tantly, mak­ing them wholly ac­count­able to the peo­ple.

No sys­tem is per­fect, but if we do not bend the arc of rea­son and ra­tio­nal­ity, and if we con­tinue to com­pen­sate ex­cuses to main­tain an an­ti­quated yet fail­ing sys­tem, we will al­ways re­main drenched in medi­ocrity and an au­toc­racy that is veiled by a democ­racy in mas­quer­ade.

The ma­jor­ity of the present pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are not the mes­si­ahs de­liv­er­ing to the cit­i­zenry any more, but are peo­ple with their snouts in the pe­cu­niary trough, gob­bling what­ever they can get, when­ever they can get it.

The flim­flams per­pe­trated against the peo­ple by nom­i­nated – not elected – pub­lic of­fi­cials have be­come the bane of our democ­racy, and peo­ple power can only be re­stored by erad­i­cat­ing a sys­tem of elec­tions that per­pet­u­ates this rot.

We need our sys­tem of elec­tions changed, by chang­ing our Con­sti­tu­tion to but­tress the no­tion that it is the peo­ple who choose those they want to be gov­erned by, and not po­lit­i­cal par­ties with agen­das that usurp true and func­tional democ­racy – else we will al­ways re­main vic­tims of our own machi­na­tions that were once meant to lead us to the Promised Land – it is that sim­ple.


THE writer says there is a need for a sys­tem whereby pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are di­rectly elected by the peo­ple so that they are di­rectly ac­count­able to the peo­ple and not to their party bosses or those whose in­ternecine in­ter­ests they serve. |

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