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Op Ed | People Must Participate In Governance

By Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi and Dr Tracy Ledger

The civil society conference on October  23, organised by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Public Affairs Research Institute (Pari), is an attempt to offer a view from civil society’s perspective on what needs to be done to overcome state capture and to reform the state in key areas; to build resilient institutions that will more effectively serve the needs of the country, especially its most vulnerable people.

Recent developments in the government’s approach to the people of South Africa raise many questions. It is common cause that we are living through a phase of major reform and reconstruction in South Africa after the “wasted years” that President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken about. This reform period provides the country with an opportunity to revitalise many of the key institutions that suffered damage during the Zuma administration — the National Prosecuting Authority, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), the South African Revenue Service and others.

Revitalisation means much more than trying to return the institutions to their perceived past glories.

It is essential that these institutions — and the state as a whole — are recalibrated to meet the demands of the next phase of South Africa’s democratic era.

Thinking and planning for the long haul in this reform phase raises key questions to confront as a country. Does government really listen to the people of this country? How do we recalibrate the relationship between government and the public so that it reflects a progressive and transformative state? In other words, how do we begin to redevelop meaningful participation by people in critical decisions that fundamentally affect our lives?

The past two decades, especially the latter, have yielded a sense that government does what it wants and takes little heed of the voices of people who do not occupy elite positions in society.

It has taken immense effort to get the government and political parties, especially the ruling ANC, to take note of the public’s views and to change course when these view differ from those in the centres of power. Government and political parties have a history of doing whatever they want — from the nuclear deal, laws vesting untrammelled powers in traditional authorities, and selling municipal land to private property speculators to keeping Jacob Zuma as president of the country. They ignore people’s outcries. Or they generate selective evidence to support their narratives and contradict lived experiences. […]