Throughout this election period, I have heard people say that since the upcoming election is a local government election, voters should not raise issues that are “national government issues”.
For example, people who have been expressing concerns about racism, xenophobia and employment as election issues have had pushback from certain political parties, advising them to stick to “service delivery issues” and not raise issues that are “not central to local government”.
The cornerstone of democracy in South Africa is the Constitution and its Bill of Rights in Chapter 2.
It enshrines rights to be accessed and enjoyed by all citizens and affirms the value of human dignity, equality and freedom. It confers these rights upon citizens to protect and promote the dignity of every one, whether unhoused, incarcerated or on trial.
The state has a duty to respect and fulfil the rights listed in the Bill of Rights. That state includes local government, which has the same obligation to uphold human rights as the national government.
Therefore issues such as justice, racism, xenophobia and other perceived “national government issues” are highly relevant within all elections and should be probed for alignment with the Bill of Rights.
During the local government elections, do not let anyone tell you not to raise justice, racism, equity, or other rights-related matters.
Do not let politicians tell you that this election is about service delivery only and that justice, racism and social well-being are not issues for this election. Every political party contesting these elections has a duty to state that their manifestos are in alignment with the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights “applies to all law, at every level of government and binds the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and all organs of state” to the application thereof. All elections are conducted under the Constitution and contesting parties must uphold the Bill of Rights.
Every level of government must “promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom” in its application.
We all want clean streets and safe drinking water. That, among many other duties, is the duty of local government and its various municipalities.
Chapter 7 of the Constitution makes it clear that “a municipality has the right to govern, on its own initiative, the local government affairs of its community, subject to national and provincial legislation, as provided for in the Constitution.”
And Chapter 2, the Bill of Rights, is national legislation that is fully binding on local government.
Therefore, citizens are allowed to raise matters of justice, racism, and equity in these local government elections. The push back from political parties is that people are not concerned about those issues in this election.
They state that people’s main concerns are that their sewerage is removed and that their streets lights are working. If that is indeed the case, then we have managed to subvert an essential aspect of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, which should inform all aspect of service delivery.
Without the Bill of Rights, you have no way of determining whether the services you are receiving from an organ of State meet appropriate standards.
It is your measuring stick to hold elected officials accountable.
It is the Constitution and, in particular, the Bill of Rights, and not some politician’s opinion of what is local and national, which is to be our guide as we vote.
It is this document that our elected officials will swear to uphold once elected.
It is therefore important that you check whether they do before you vote for them. Your concerns about rising race tension and unequal distributions of government resources are part of this election. Ask your candidate what they think the Bill of Rights means for this election.
Their answer will give you a fair insight into their and their party’s mindset about whether they consider justice as important as sewerage.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.