Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba. File picture: ANA/Tracey Adams

Cape Town - South Africa is about to receive its "second wind", and the forthcoming May 8 elections have the potential to be the genesis and catalyst of the nation's renewal, Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba said on Saturday night.

"Just as Albert Luthuli and other Nobel peace laureates confronted the powers of darkness of their times, and brought light and hope, as we seek the risen light of Christ in the South Africa of today, we too can transform the upcoming elections into the most important moment in modern South African history," Makgoba said in his Easter vigil sermon in St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

South Africa's problems would not be solved by replacing one president with another. Changing individual leaders was no panacea for all that was wrong with governance in South Africa today. While President Cyril Ramaphosa had given some hope and optimism, he was not all-powerful. He too could be replaced, and the events of the past 15 months had shown that South Africans could not rely solely on changes in the presidency to turn their country around.

South Africa today faced a new struggle, a struggle about values and institutions rather than about personalities. It was necessary to build strong systems which could not be undermined by one person or party's whim. To ensure that government worked to improve the lives of all, especially those of the poorest of the poor, these institutions had to be strengthened.

Examination of the state of health of the three main institutions of government – the judiciary, the executive, and the legislature – showed the judiciary had performed well in the face of the problems of the past decade. In the past year, the executive had begun to perform better, although there were areas in which improvements were needed and its performance in future depended too much on the decisions of a single individual, Makgoba said. 

But it could not be said that parliament had fulfilled its oversight obligations in the way one would expect in a healthy democracy. With some exceptions, it had failed abysmally over the years to hold government to account. Too often, the behaviour of MPs had been disgraceful.

None of the major parties were exempt from this criticism. All had been guilty on occasion of opportunistic stunts and shameful attacks. In the public mind, parliament had become a place of spectacle instead of serious debate about the laws and policies needed to improve people's lives. Moreover, too many members of the governing party held their leaders to account only when they sensed the leader's influence in their own party was ebbing, he said.

"So in the spirit of the new life that Easter promises us, let us as citizens in this democracy now act to reform and renew parliament. If we are to build parliament into a strong institution which holds the executive to account, we should approach the election on May 8 with the aim of transforming the institution.

"Sadly, the party list system stops us as voters from passing judgement in local constituencies on the performance of MPs responsible for the areas in which we live. Instead I want to suggest that as responsible citizens we all examine carefully the complete list of candidates each party has drawn up.

"Let us as active citizens examine all the names on the lists of all the parties and bring pressure to bear on the parties to re-examine them. Then let us cast our votes, not on the basis of blind party loyalty, but for the group of prospective parliamentarians we believe represents our values best and will act in the interests of the country as a whole.

"My proposal is not aimed only at the ANC. It applies to all parties, for I haven't seen anyone subject the lists drawn up by the DA, the EFF, or other parties, to the same scrutiny. Our people deserve a parliament made up of members of the highest moral calibre, whether in government or in opposition. To elect anyone else to this sacred institution is to spit in the faces of our ancestors who have sacrificed their lives and their liberty for democracy.

"You must vote and you must vote for the party that you believe will finally bring to an end a system which promises equality but produces inequality. You must vote for the party that you believe will create equality of opportunity. And most importantly, you must ask your heart as well as your head, which party will unquestionably remove violence as a way of achieving our objectives," Makgoba said.

African News Agency (ANA)