As we close the curtain on 25 years of experimenting with democracy and promise-keeping to those who fought for freedom and those expecting things to be better in line with the constitutional promise, we must accept that we’ll never be allowed to experiment again.
Excuses about the legacy will simply no longer cut it when it comes to meet basic needs such as proper education, health facilities and security facilities for all. When South Africans go to the polls exercise the hard-earned right to vote for many, they are still likely to pick a party based on promises and some may even still vote based on historical struggle sentiments. But I am convinced that this will be the last time the people vote on hope rather than reality. I also believe that whoever is entrusted with the mandate to govern on all our behalf will not be given a five-year mandate. They will be expected to yield results, particularly about ending poverty and hunger while making demonstrable progress on socio-economic inclusion in all dimensions of society and at all levels of human endeavour.
Political parties jostling for power will have to understand that the time for making promises on a better life for all, jobs and land for all or South Africa for all and later deliver excuses to some of our people in the 4392 municipal wards, is over. Even those that have never governed are increasingly scrutinised in terms of their track record with the little power they’ve ever heard and the extent to which when they raise issues, they consistently put constitutional priorities such as advancing socio-economic rights for all, first.
After 25 years of hits and misses as part of an experiment in dealing in hope, many of the left behind have had enough. The mood in the country is such that blaming apartheid for not meeting basic needs will no longer cut it. The hunger and anger “hanger” in the face of abject poverty for the majority (55.5%), while some have capitalised on political power to achieve super opulence as apartheid beneficiaries perch on the higher ground apartheid, left them.
My experience during the Thuma foundation Democracy Dialogues (#DEmologues) and Stakeholder consultations under the Mosa Plan for Social Justice (Social Justice MPlan) suggests that its time up for excuses. People demand accountability for their democracy dividend.
It is very clear that those left behind in the enjoyment of democracy dividends are no longer willing to cheer on the side lines as the democracy gravy train passes them by.
The people will no longer accept glib excuses for any delivery on the vision behind the struggle and constitutional promises. They certainly are mindful of the fact that the legacy of 344 years of apartheid and colonialism cannot be wiped out in 25 years or one generation. However, they are not blind to the fact that those like me who entered democracy as strategically positioned persons due to education and struggle visibility enjoyed political capital that has placed them at the front of the queue for picking up the fruits of democracy.
What does this mean? At the Thuma Foundation and the Mosa Plan for Social justice, young people are saying its time political parties aligned their governance agendas with constitutional promises and global sustainable development goals. In so doing they should ensure that implementing the United Nations Slogan that says “Leave No One Behind” means literally leaving no one behind by meeting all the people of South Africa where they are. This means knowing the circumstances of each person and family within the 4392 Municipal wards. The next step is to ensure that when, laws, policies and plans are executed they, improve the quality of life and free the potential of all as envisaged in the Constitution.
As we speak, a student-initiated #DearPresidents campaign is mobilising thousands of young people under to hold political party leaders accountable for gaps between their actions, including manifestos and human rights promises in the constitution as well as global sustainable development goals. The aim is to publish these views by April 27 with the hope that it may still influence political parties to integrate people’s real hopes and dreams in their agendas for change.
Someone said, how will this help given that political parties promise heaven and earth with no clue regarding what it would take to deliver with some parties clearly promising things with no intention to deliver? The answer from the young people has been that if parties promise with no plan or intention to deliver, judgement day will not be in 5 years’ time but in the local government elections in 2021.
I am also not convinced that come April 27, people will vote merely on promises and historical sentiment. I believe our people are increasingly becoming more democracy literate. For those that have governed and made mistakes in the past, people will want acknowledgment of such past misstates.
I doubt if many will swallow blaming mud schools without toilets, hospital without supplies and other failures to meet necessities, on apartheid. I don’t believe a promise of socio-economic inclusion will be swallowed hook line and sinker from anyone in the absence of a history of prioritising social justice. The same applies to a promise to end corruption. Such promise will be evaluated against each party’s track record in handling entrusted power and resources and allegations of fraud, theft and corruption in this regard.
However, that seems to eliminate all the major political parties whether having governed or not. Where does this leave the people as the “My Vote Counts” Constitutional Court judgement which opens the door beyond political parties and proportional representation will only be implemented by 2021?
Voters will still vote on promises despite unmet promises. But they are more likely to vote for those that are honest about past mistakes. They will forgive people like David Makhura who exhibit Mandela’s admission that even the most benevolent of governments have within them people with propensities for human failings. They are more likely to lean on those who subscribe to Amicar Cabral’s famous dictum about telling no lies and claiming no easy victories. The bulk of our people are also likely to see through glib promises that are not backed by any development model, sustainable or otherwise. They will force us not to leave them behind and that won’t be neat. Incidentally, everyone else has had enough.
Nonetheless, once people have voted, this country will remain on either the cusp of glory or the precipice. It will all depend on the quality of leadership. On the question of leadership parties better understand the complexities and ambiguities ahead and deploy into positions of entrusted power women and men that are equal to the task. Jobs for pals or supporters must go.
If President Ramaphosa, lands on the driver’s seat he must know that to lead us to glory, he’ll have to lead, with no excuses, for sustainable growth and development that leaves no one behind.
Prof Thuli Madonsela Law Trust Chair in Social Justice, Stellenbosch University Founder: Thuma Foundation and Social Justice M-Plan