SA Power in too few hands

Recent developments which seem to have placed truth, freedom of expression and party discipline on a collision course prompted an urgent critique of the prospects for the extension of democracy. 

The promise of the miracle “Rainbow Nation” is premised on the assumption that, with time, the general population – and especially those previously on the margins- would begin to have impact on the overall national agenda as negotiated in Parliament and similar forums. 

This assumption is derived from the long-standing declaration to make the voice of the people more supreme in shaping our beleaguered society. Indeed, one of the most politically sublime declarations of the Congress Alliance as embodied in the Freedom Charter has been that, in the new South Africa, “the people shall govern.”  

Our understanding of this noble principle is that it was meant to put the sovereignty of the population above that of either the government of the day or any individual political party. 

Based on this interpretation, the question then becomes, in what form- at a constitutional level- will people’s sovereignty over the political party and the government be exercised. This constitutional question directly challenges a number of assumptions that seem to have informed the drafting of the final Constitution of our country. 

Broadly, the two major forms of party representations in South Africa are the proportional representation model and the constituency based model. 

No logical reason

While it is understandable why proportional representation was used in the 1994 elections, we find no logical reason why this model was retained in the final Constitution. 

In fact, we believe that its retention represents a historic setback for democracy in SA. 

The adoption of this model transfers the sovereignty of the people to the political elites, and in fact, even undermines prospects for their meaningful participation in the democratic process itself. 

In its crude form, the proportional vote model limits the choices of individual communities on how they would like to be represented in national or regional government structures. 

At yet another level, the model tends to excessively entrench the influence and powers of an already powerful hierarchy within individual parties, a situation more accentuated in our nascent democracy. As an illustration: individual party representatives will always be under the party whip on matters that are taken to the vote, even when issues of principle, and not necessarily policy, are at stake. 

We make this example because we believe that party loyalty should never be elevated above national loyalty. 

In this respect, we believe that individual party representatives should have the latitude to vote against their party where they feel that national interests may be subsumed or compromised by sectional interests. 

Further, we contend that such dissent should not be construed as a betrayal by the individual representatives. Given a constituency base model, one wonders what the outcome of the “will of the people” would have been regarding the dismissal from Cabinet of the ANC’s Winnie Madikizela Mandela and Bantu Holomisa. 

In these cases, there was no broad consultation of the constituencies that effectively put them in their positions in the first place. Obviously the will of the people was totally usurped by the political elite. This illustration shows that the present model will stunt the development of diversity and thereby the maturing of democracy within individual parties and broader society. 

Patronage will inevitably be the predominant mode of operation as loyalty to party hierarchies become a safe route for all aspirant politicians. We cannot overstate the crippling effects such a trend has had. 

In contrast, a constituency-based representation model holds a greater potential for SA. In this case, every parliamentarian has to be chosen by a specific constituency, to which they will ultimately be accountable for their overall performance. Although candidates are initially nominated by their parties, those elected become their community representatives. 

This way, local communities are able to access national institutions by right and design as individual Members of Parliament are forced to maintain a reasonable profile to justify the support they solicit from the community. In turn, the MPs themselves will keep abreast of the concerns of their communities and clearly articulate their concerns. One fundamental benefit from this process is deepening and consolidation of the Democratic process. 

In light of the above, we argue and advocate that the constituency -based model provides the only reasonable affirmation of the Congress Alliance’s declaration on the people’s government. 

We also contend that this model has the capacity to empower even the most marginal of our society, as they too will be in direct contact with national developments. 

Direct contrast

This will be in direct contrast to the current trend in which only the privileged, vociferous and select few seem to enjoy the “visits” and “report back” meetings of parliamentary representatives. 

In turn, local party structures will be elevated beyond mere electioneering and fundraising machines. They would develop the capacity to forcefully impact on the policy dynamics in their national structures. 

In this model, our MPs – having a definite constituency mandate and base- would be able to balance the needs of their parties on the one hand, with those of the nation and constituencies on the other. 

We urge that our political elites make a noble sacrifice for the sake of a healthier democracy. Our growing baby needs a bigger cradle. 


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