Editorial: Honing the teeth of democracy

2019-04-14 15:00

When South Africa attained democracy in 1994 the citizens were also given tools with which to hold powers accountable.

Our democratic infrastructure has various institutions that are meant to ensure that those in positions of power fulfil their constitutional mandates and do not violate or trample on rights.

We have bodies that deal with matters of prejudice, hate speech, gender-based harassment and discrimination, abuse of the public purse, and the authorities’ failure to do their jobs.

The work of these institutions, coupled with an independent judiciary and a vibrant media, gives us democracy teeth.

Regular elections are useful instruments for citizens to voice their dissatisfaction or to show confidence in incumbents.

In South Africa, election season, the time when citizens should be sending a message to those in power through democratic means, is accompanied also by an upsurge in violent service delivery protests.

As parties campaign for votes ahead of the May 8 general elections, we have public protests flaring up across the country.

In some communities residents have threatened to boycott the election if their demands are not addressed, a rather strange way to make your voice heard.

It might seem strange for citizens to use undemocratic means to voice their grievances at a time when they should be using their most powerful weapon, the vote, to hold politicians to ransom.

It might also seem strange that those very same people who are on the streets might end up voting for the same people who have failed them.

But the reality is that citizens see the election season as the only time in which they can leverage against politicians who disappear once elected into office, only to return five years later for the next election season.

In the development of our democracy it is going to become necessary to educate South Africans about the power that the Constitution gives them.

They need to know that they do not need to wait five years to send a message to power and that if they wish to do so in between elections it need not take the form of fire and brimstone.

They must be trained to use the vast array of peaceful weapons that the Constitution has given them.

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June 16 2019