Durban - Participatory democracy would save South Africa but it needed public servants to “get out there” and talk to the citizens, National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson Thandi Modise said on Wednesday.
“To ensure that the provisions of the constitution are met, you need to get out there and talk to our bosses – the citizens,” said Modise.
Modise was part of a panel debating public participation at the inaugural South African Local Government Association (Salga) Council of Speakers at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban.
“We are still in a transition. We sometimes assume that the quality of democracy, the quality of participation from the citizens of this country must be the same as the quality of participation in London and in the United States, but it is not,” she said.
Modise said policies like affirmative action were implemented to redress the past and acknowledge communities that still needed to be educated in understanding their rights.
“These communities need to know that it is not violence but the power of their vote and their voices and how they phrase their voices that will get results for them,” she said.
It was important to acknowledge the role that parliament, provincial legislature and municipalities played in public participation, with local government better placed to achieve this than the other two spheres, she said.
“During elections, it is these citizens who stay amongst us (councillors) that we know, that can become directly involved. It is this citizen who is a public representative who is a public representative in a ward in a council that must become my ears, eyes and mouth,” she said.
She said the role of the public representative could not be separated from the role he or she played in educating and communicating with citizens.
“This is why you need to educate people to participate but also to hold to account,” she said.
“Both local government, the provinces as in legislature and parliament, do not determine their budgets. You need to have access to resources to ensure that public education actually happens.”
Citizens should not only be approached when there were problems, she said.
“We should be able to engage in societies and South Africans as and how they choose to converge.”
Delegates at the conference included Salga president Parks Tau, National Assembly Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli and political analyst Ralph Mathekga.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula and Cooperative Governance Minister Des Van Rooyen are expected to be part of another panel discussion on Thursday.