How do you think the structure of South Africa's government enables / restricts the representation of the will of the people?
The structure of the South African government is one that is unique and fitting for a country as diverse and undecided on matters regarding governance as ours. We are faced with the daily issue of difference in opinions and perceptions and it is for this reason that I am of the belief that our current system, used efficiently and ethically can lead to a very prosperous time for our country.
Our government is structured around the theme of separation of powers, this is to ensure accountability and transparency in our governance. Our government is one that is a representative democracy, this means that those in power are given this through the means of the people. In our country we are given the opportunity to choose these representatives every four years on a national level, and every five years on a local level.
This system is one that is very effective in achieving fair and equal representation for all South Africans. It can be said that we follow the philosophy of majority rule, minority protection. This ensures that all South Africans are considered in decision that would affect them in their immediate communities and in the country as a whole.
Our local elections are a great example of how citizens are represented in a way that their needs are met and their voices heard. Our local government is made up of 8 metropolitan areas, all situated in the main provinces, with the exclusion of the Northern Cape who are without a Metropolitan. These Metropolitans are governed through Municipal Executive Committees (MEC), comprising of 400 members. Our votes essentially determined who would form part of this MEC. The first of our ballets was in order to vote for a ward councillor; this individual would be elected on a first past the post system and would make up 200 of the MEC’s seats. The second ballet was to vote for our representative party in our district, which in essence is merely a collection of smaller local municipalities. The final ballet was to vote for the party that we wanted to represent us in the Municipal council, with these final two ballets making up the other 200 seats on the MEC. This was an eye-opener for me as it became clear to me that we as citizens really do have the power to decide who governs us, and also that you need not only vote for one the “Big Three”. It became clear as our session went on that it is extremely important for the so-called smaller parties to be represented in our local government as they looked out for the interests of those that are neglected or unattended to by these bigger parties. It also became clear as to why these bigger parties were pushing for more votes for them, in order to obtain a larger portion of seats on the MEC. As our democracy is very young and will continue to grow we will start seeing a true representation of all the people. This will be achieved through seeing more coalition among parties, who would actively represent the different interest groups
The biggest restriction that I feel exists is that although we vote for a specific party, we do not have a say as to which members are elected in certain positions and how they are held accountable. I am certain that should South Africans have a say in voting for a president we would not see Mr. Zuma keep his position, however, in our current system he remains, despite the fact that countless protests and legal action has been brought forth against him. How can we then say that our democracy is a true reflection of the majority’s wishes?
What institutions exist to provide support for citizens who are not directly represented by a political party and do you think they are effective?
The reality in our country is that not everyone that votes for one party shares the same values and beliefs and as such may feel that the decisions taken by these parties are not a true reflection of their beliefs. As such, we have seen many registered voters opting not to partake in the elections as they do not feel any particular party is a true reflection of their values and beliefs. It is important to stress that this a reality in our country and as such institutions need to be put in place for the protection and support of these individuals. institutions have been created through means of Chapter 9 of our Constitution. They are in place to ensure that no decisions taken by these parties will be made with bad intentions and to the detriment of the people. They are in place to ensure our government is held accountable. The following is institutions that have been set up in order to support those who feel no sense of belonging or representation;
• The Public Protector
• The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)
• The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission)
• The Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)
• The Auditor-General
• The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)
• The Independent Authority to Regulate Broadcasting.
• The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa(Icasa).
Does the separation of powers work effectively in South Africa? If yes, why? If no, what would you like to see changed?
I am of the opinion that the separation of powers is vital to the functioning of our country. The three spheres, consisting of the executive, legislative and judiciary are put in place to hold each other accountable and ensure that no power is abused, this is achieved through checks and balances. On paper it is a system designed to operate like a well-oiled machine, but the reality is that corruption and complacency exists in our current government. Officials and ministers whose actions are found to be out of line with regards to the law are not dealt with effectively and this sends a bad image to the voters. If the elected representatives are not able to upheld the law how can they be expected to make decisions on behalf of the citizens. I personally would like to see more accountability in our governance; we have the necessary structures in place to ensure this yet we are still faced with daily news of ministers and officials failing to do their job effectively and ethically. As mentioned earlier, when there are countless protests or legal action being brought forward against a minister or political party representative; how can they be allowed to continue to govern and represent the very people who do not wish for that individual to have power, but still believe in the ideologies of the party he belongs to?
In Conclusion I would like to discuss the final question that was central to our discussion and engagement; Who has the power? It is a very complex question that requires analysis of all the different structures of our government and they work together. The question is asked in light of whether our electing of a local government has any true power over the national government. The local government has a large influence on how things are done within their metropolitans, but they are in fact restricted by the national government. This is done as several of the projects that they wish to pass on has to be approved and funded through the national treasury, as well as being subject to legislation set out by the legislative authority. This raises the question of is it the local- or national government that has the final say in these things. It is quite clear that the power is in fact divided between the national and provincial, with each holding each other accountable for decisions and actions taken. When it comes to deciding who of the two have more power? I am of the opinion that it is neither. We, as the people of South Africa, hold the power. We give power to the different levels of government, and just as we give it, we can take it away. It is for this reason that the national – and local elections are so important, and even more so in the years to come. The power is no longer in the hands of one party; now is the time for coalition governance, now is the time for democracy. It is our role as active citizens to inform others about these issues and show them how we can actively partake in our democracy and we can hold our representatives accountable.