Give South Africans the right to choose public representatives



Published Mar 7, 2024



The president of the Republic of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, finally announced that the general election date is May 29, 2024.

It is not a coincidence that since the beginning of the year, South Africans have been bombarded with electioneering slogans by politicians from various political parties in an attempt to convince them to consider voting for them.

South Africans listened to and attended the manifesto launches of various political parties. The manifesto launches serve as a platform for them to lure and encourage the electorate to vote for them. But to what extent is the exercise effective? Are South African voters really swayed by promises that political parties make in their manifesto launches?

In other words, does a voter have the time to compare each party’s message in order for them to make an informed choice about which party to vote for? If not, what then motivates their choice?

One of the crucial concerns within the South African body politic is the social distance between voters and their representatives. Others have argued that this can be attributable to South Africa’s electoral system which places primacy over a political party as opposed to an elected representative.

This is understandable because in South Africa, the electorates vote for political parties. In turn, the political parties provide the list of their preferred representatives to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). In this way, it makes sense for public representative to be more loyal to the party than to the voters.

Without a doubt, this complicates accountability of public representatives to the electorate. Public representatives do not represent their own jacket. They represent a particular political party mandate.

In fact, in the past, there were public representatives who were taken to task by their respective parties for not toeing the party line. The result of this is that we have a group that think with far-reaching repercussions. We all know that group think stifles creativity and innovation as it promotes herd mentality.

Even though the Constitutional Court has ruled that our electoral reforms be changed to accommodate independent candidates, I don’t see this happening in the upcoming elections. This means that voters would still be unable to choose their representatives in Parliament or a legislature, without relying on the party list. Everything is left in the hands of party bosses.

Political parties use their own criteria to select those who will represent them in Parliament or a legislature. In some instances, the electorate would complain about the quality of certain candidates forwarded by political parties. This could be due to their unethical conduct in society and many other issues.

The IEC should give South Africans the right to choose public representatives. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 provides the requirements for one being a member of Parliament. Every citizen who may vote is entitled to be a member of the National Assembly except: people employed or appointed by the state who are paid for this work, although the president, the Cabinet and certain other office bearers may become members, permanent delegates of the National Council of Provinces, members of provincial legislatures and members of municipal councils; insolvents (people declared bankrupt) who have not been rehabilitated; people declared by a court to be mentally unsound; and people convicted of an offence and sentenced to more than a year in prison without the option of a fine after October 1996. Such people qualify for membership of the National Assembly again five years after their sentences have been completed.

The Constitution is silent about those who may be perceived as unethical, without the requisite qualification and skills. We have members of Parliament and the Cabinet who were fingered by the Zondo Commission to have done unethical things.

The people occupy important positions in society. Even worse, such people can be forwarded to Parliament again. Furthermore, there are legislators who do not have post-matric qualifications in this era. What does this mean for the quality of leadership we want as a society?

While other scholars have argued that for one to be a politician, one does not necessarily need a qualification, it is worth mentioning that given the nature of the challenges the country faces and the deteriorating state of our nation, people with skills and qualification are needed to help resolve the complex issues confronting society.

Borrowing from China, one cannot serve as a politician in higher structures without a Master’s degree. Other countries have also adopted the qualification and skills route as a prerequisite for appointing and electing those with qualification and skills. It is considered that those with qualifications and skills are able to solve and deal with complex issues. The principal of the National School of Government, Professor Busani Ngcaweni, would always say: “The eye of the needle is so porous that we put people into leadership positions who elsewhere, would qualify only as artisans, butlers and committee secretaries.”

The political parties should think about the best interests of the country. The country is facing the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Therefore, a need for qualified, skilled and ethical leadership is paramount to tackle the challenges well.

Voters should carefully check who the parties deploy and make an informed decision.

Molepo is an associate professor attached to the School of Government at the North West University and executive director of the South African Association of Public Administration and Management. He writes in his personal capacity.

Pretoria News