“We will have local government elections in the third quarter of 2021. South Africans, sadly, have an apathy towards civic duty, especially elections,” writes Lorenzo Davids. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/AfricanNewsAgency (ANA)
“We will have local government elections in the third quarter of 2021. South Africans, sadly, have an apathy towards civic duty, especially elections,” writes Lorenzo Davids. Picture: Sibonelo Ngcobo/AfricanNewsAgency (ANA)

#changethestory: Elections must be about hard data, not fiery speeches

By Opinion Time of article published Sep 28, 2020

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by Lorenzo Davids

We will have local government elections in the third quarter of 2021. South Africans, sadly, have an apathy towards civic duty, especially elections.

There are probably more braais around the country on Election Day than on Heritage Day. The National Development Plan calls for active citizenship to ensure that we have an engaged citizenry. Most South Africans, however, would much rather start an NGO to fix a problem than to go and stand in a queue to vote on Election Day for a government whose duty it is to fix the systemic problems in our society.

The 2021 Local Government Elections will be held between August 4 2021 and November 1 2021. We also have a national census scheduled to take place in October 2021. The data from the census will not be available in time for the elections. Notwithstanding the absence of fresh data, it is critically important that the 2021 Local Government Elections be about hard data.

It is the duty of voters to ask hard questions from their politicians. Local government is the leading interface between the people and its leaders. Voter education must help voters to frame important questions to ask of their local government politicians. I certainly hope we will no longer see song and dance political rallies, all taking place amidst abject poverty. I certainly hope we won’t see politicians arriving in mile-long entourages and FBI-type security. Those usually tend to be the ones that are most out of touch with the people.

One of the critical questions to ask of the governing party in your municipality is: how much money, meant for decreasing poverty levels and increasing community upliftment did it return to treasury over the last five years?

Another critical question to ask is: how many community meetings were held with communities to engage in participatory democracy exercises? Political parties will be quick to point to “constituency work” or sub-council meetings as community engagement opportunities. For those who have attended the latter, such meetings allow for minimal exploratory dialogues in what are often very full meeting agendas.

There are very few non-political community meetings where people can openly talk about the well-being of their community. Ratepayers meetings are supposed to be that instrument, but even there an arrogance has crept in that preserves privilege, protects special interests and allows for a securitized approach to community living.

A third question to probe is whether the key poverty indicators have increased or decreased over the last five years under their management of the local government system?

We need to analyse what the average budget spend is per citizen and per community relative to need, and not relative to ray-paying status. South Africa has wasted precious years under corrupt leadership and wasted billions of rands on fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

In July 2020 Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu released the 2018/19 municipal audit results, showing that R32 billion has been deemed to be fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Of the 278 municipalities in the country, the top five defaulters were the larger metros.

One of the civil society duties we have is to have a robust fact-checking system that runs parallel to the local government elections. A politician on a stage with a willing audience spewing forth loads of numbers is a dangerous thing.

We will need a robust community of active citizens and media partners who will analyse all speeches to check the data given to voters.

One day, maybe in this next election, we will have elected representatives who will understand how to “Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; and work to improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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