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Mbeki’s call for a National Dialogue is critical first step towards democratic governance

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Omry Makgoale is a rank and file member of the ANC. These are his personal views.

How can politicians be made accountable to ourselves, the voters?

When former president Thabo Mbeki delivered his “Observations to mark the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy” at Freedom Park in Tshwane on 30 April, he described the corruption and destruction of infrastructure and economy of the past 15 years as the result of “organised counter-revolution”, and he called for a “National Dialogue” to be held after the coming general elections.

There is growing support for Mbeki’s call for a National Dialogue, but there is a very serious issue he did not address.

As TimesLive reported, Mbeki “diagnosed what has paralysed” South Africa’s government and “proposed an inclusive dialogue with civil society organisations, politicians, businesses, labour and other organisations to discuss a way forward.

“He attributed failure of democratic government to ‘sabotage’ in state-owned industries such as Eskom and Sars, and ANC members ‘who serve selfish self-interests’…. Mbeki said the counter-revolution has caused suffering to citizens.”

He cited the call of ANC’s 2024 elections manifesto for “ensuring that the ANC public representatives and deployees are held accountable for the basic services to communities”.

The question Mbeki left open, though, was: how can politicians be made accountable to ourselves, the voters? Our problem is that the electoral system under three decades of ANC government blocks the individual accountability of MPs, provincial councillors and also leaders of state enterprises to us, the citizens of South Africa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections hub

The ANC manifesto talks of building a “developmental and ethical State, led by honest, dedicated and capable leaders”, but how can that happen when MPs and provincial councillors are appointed by party bosses, and not elected by name by local voters, who can get rid of them when they fail us?

Mbeki said that the ANC must build and entrench “strong ethical foundations” to “end lawlessness, violence against the person, including gender-based violence, as well as a pernicious individualism which leads to looting, corruption and all manner of criminal abuse”.

This is true. But it’s not possible to achieve this under the present Electoral Act. There is no guarantee that any new leadership will meet these minimum standards.

It has just been revealed that Fikile Mbalula, the ANC secretary general, has admitted that the lists of candidates submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission were tampered with. Without trustworthy leaders accountable as individuals in elections, Mbeki’s wishes remain an illusion and a pipe dream.

30 static years

The reality is that when we as school students rose up to challenge the might of the apartheid state in 1976, our focus was on establishing one person, one vote of equal value for all the citizens of South Africa. This meant the right to directly elect our leaders.

We fought for equal rights for all the citizens of South Africa, black and white, but the goal of equal rights for all citizens remains elusive today. The class of 1976 has lost the ball and the focus.

We still do not have the same rights the whites had under apartheid. One person one vote of equal value for electing our leaders remains elusive.

The initial parliamentary electoral laws adopted in 1994 were understood to be temporary and not permanent, but they have been kept for three decades by subsequent ANC governments, despite several proposals to change them.

In 1999 the Electoral Task Team, chaired by Dr Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, was set up to explore preferable parliamentary electoral laws for South Africa. When the Electoral Task Team presented its report in January 2003, it had two main recommendations: the minority recommendations and the majority recommendations.

The minority recommendations proposed a 100% proportional representation electoral system, also known as the closed list system, in which citizens are only allowed to vote for political parties. The citizens have no rights to choose their members of Parliament themselves, they cannot choose their President, and they cannot choose their provincial premiers and their mayors. All these government officials are appointed by political parties without the participation and input of the citizens themselves. The citizens are treated like children, with no right to choose the members of Parliament by name and constituency.

Let the people decide! This is the only way to make a success of former President Thabo Mbeki’s excellent proposal for a National Dialogue. DM

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  • Senzo Moyakhe says:

    A National Dialogue is not a critical first step to democratic governance. One person – one vote is a constitutional right in South Africa. That is the establishment of democracy. The destruction of the South African transformation and democracy project falls squarely in the hands of the ANC party (it’s not a government).

    Omry, the “organised counter revolution” you refer to took place WITHIN the ANC, it was NOT the people of South Africa who organised a ‘counter revolution’ to the transformation and democratisation of the South African nation. You as the ANC should hold your own National Dialogue – I don’t know for the how manieth time – to do your soul searching on the horrendous failure to root out rampant corruption and lack of administrative capacity within your party. If you do find your soul and it is compatible with the needs of a competent, democratic and functional government that has the peoples’ interests at heart, well do the work to fix the mess. We might vote for you then – not likely though.

    Au revoir

    • Jon Quirk says:

      No, “one man, one vote” is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes up Democracy.

      For it to be meaningful, it assumes that the electorate is knowledgeable, educated and sophisticated enough to be able to determine what the disparate candidates are saying, in order to secure their votes, and there must be a meaningful way, when candidates fall short, or even blatantly lie.

      In other words there must be meaningful, achievable ways in and out.

      Democracy is little more than determining the way the income received by government – governments themselves generate no income – from tax-payers, and this is underpinned by an often unwritten, “Social Compact” .

      This is vital because taxes received is government’s only source of revenue, and therefore retaining the goodwill of tax-payers actually funding the process is fundamental and vital.

      Remember, and heed well, that the American revolution began with the cry “No representation, then no Taxes!”

      • Senzo Moyakhe says:

        If the established government system is democracy, you can attempt to apply the qualifications you mentioned here; they are poor reasoning in any case. With South Africa’s history before 1994, they cannot apply. It would immediately exclude the very people who were being brought into the system after the deliberate discrimination of Apartheid. There could be no qualification beyond universal franchise. The ANC took on the responsibility of meaningfully bringing it to fruition for that excluded population. Simplistically drilling down, CODESA was that ‘National Dialogue’. 62% of the population trusted them to carry out that promise. Resetting a National Dialogue is deflecting attention from the dereliction of their responsibility.

        With you democracy reasoning as a revenue collection mechanism, so is Autocracy, Communism, Monarchy, Socialism etc. Democracy gives a voice to those taxpayers to determine how those collected revenues are applied to run the country effectively, to their benefit. Apartheid was also underpinned by an ‘unwritten Social Compact’ that benefitted the White minority of the population by oppressing and limiting rights . The White Apartheid government was a democracy for the Whites. Is it a reasonable Social Compact when it deliberately excludes a large part of the population?

        Foreign traders who pay Customs Duties are paying ‘taxes’ to bring their products into our markets. They aren’t governed by the SA government. Apply your taxpayers reasoning to that.

    • Geoff Coles says:

      Good points Senzo, the ANC cannot disguise the fact that they abused the Constitution almost from the start with corruption, cadre appointments of unqualified, tenders etc

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Couldn’t agree more. And remove political parties from local elections. What’s the point of politicising service delivery? Because that’s all a municipality should be doing.

  • Andikho Krelekrele says:

    Amen Senzo – the ANC must first and foremost look at themselves. Service delivery, corruption, damaging economic policies and shocking administrative capacity!
    Let’s start by holding Mr Mbeki accountable for his views and disastrous results on HIV/AIDS, for appointing Zuma as deputy pres, the start of Eskom’s demise etc.
    I agree that politicians should be held accountable – something that was for the past 2 decades, and still is not part of ANC thinking ( think e.g. their actions around Zuma’s Nkandla, Pala Pala, their latest candidate list with the who’s who from the Zondo commissions “baddies”, etc.

  • Mpendulo Mondile says:

    A recent electioneering ad by DA showing a burning SA FLAG, is a typical example of a political party that seeks to undermine the sovereinty of South Africa. It is a treason case. It is not for the first time DA does the controversial thing during this period of elections, they wrote to US via the embassy , wrote as political party requesting the US to come and monitor 2024 elections. DA is becoming a liability in the country and prove its racist stance.

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