LEO BLOM AND SIPHAMANDLA ZONDI
Our biggest worry as the Devoted Citizen Movement is what sort of citizens we have become in our democracy.
Yes, leaders matter a lot. They help organise how we run our affairs. They are lent power to exercise on behalf of and together with citizens.
Citizens matter even more that leaders. It is to them that the power belongs, which they only lend to a small group called leaders. It is not supposed to be that citizens abandon all their duties to the leaders and political parties. It is not supposed to be that citizens become passive.
According to the dictionary, democracy is a government by the people, the rule of majority in society. The majority is us, citizens, but this is meaningless when we forget this and end up being ruled completely by “the leaders” or parties. Leaders must not be rulers; they must lead on our behalf and with our consent or vigilance.
Democracy, therefore, is not a government where the majority is ruled by a minority in society. It is not a government where only a few participate daily in decision-making about issues of society. This can lead to a dangerous situation where a country’s destiny is in the hands of a few among us. Even if the few are well-meaning, it is not healthy that the owners of society sell their rights to them.
It is said that too much power in the hands of a few corrupts. It changes them into scavengers who feast on our failure, into hyenas who hijack the government to benefit themselves. Too much power turns our leaders into monsters who do not care whether there is electricity, water, housing, sanitation, jobs, goods and so forth.
It is then not a democracy when people participate only during elections and sit on the sidelines through the five years.
Through elections, we elect leaders to implement laws and initiatives that improve the quality of life for the whole population. But we have elected those who perpetuate maladministration and corruption. The biggest of such is the corruption of the contract between leaders and citizens, leading to leaders becoming unaccountable to citizens.
If the leaders were drawn from the most skilled among us, we could say at least their full takeover may help. But we have seen, time and again, that we, as citizens, have chosen not the best among us but the swindlers, the talkers, those who brand themselves as if they can lead.
We end up with leaders who allow billions in budget to go back to the Treasury unspent because they have no clue how to implement anything. Leaders who are good at political drama and theatrics, not at giving roads and electricity, who talk and not walk the talk. When given more power, they will simply steal more of our resources, neglect more of our communities, and swindle more.
In this country, we have allowed, time and again, leaders who are good at only making lofty promises but cannot deliver them. We have been promised heaven and earth in order to lull us into becoming passive citizens who wait for the land of honey that never comes.
We have allowed ourselves to trust men and women, who have never built anything for themselves, to promise us to fix the economy, improve infrastructure, attract investment and create jobs. How do I ever achieve for a country what I have not achieved for my family, village or township?
We don’t even complain anymore. Most of us have decided to live with the burden of a life in South Africa. Many have given up because of the poor choices of leaders we often make. Some have given up hope for a better life and for a well-functioning South Africa. We watch the news about the failures around us and throw our hands in the air as if it is all beyond repair.
It is too dangerous to give up. We cannot leave a broken system as a legacy for our children. Citizens must rise and take up their positions.
We must fix the choices we made by mistake and make better ones now. One such choice is to be active, to organise, to petition solutions, to elect leaders with track records, to become available to lead and to contribute something. The National Development Plan says it is impossible for us to build a successful South Africa without active citizenship.
The Devoted Citizens is a civil society movement made up of gatvol citizens who decided to contribute positively to change in communities. It is for agents of change that raise their voices and mobilise others to become patriotic enough to fight for change. Like many other civil society platforms, we say: citizens arise and watch so that charlatans do not run amok. Let us join hands and rescue South Africa now, before it is too late.
Leo Blom is an activist in the Devoted Citizen.
Siphamandla Zondi works for the University of Johannesburg and volunteers with the Devoted Citizen.