The role of active participation in shaping SA’s future

Miyelani Holeni is a Revenue and Governance expert and serves as the Group Chief Advisor at Ntiyiso Consulting. Picture: Supplied

Miyelani Holeni is a Revenue and Governance expert and serves as the Group Chief Advisor at Ntiyiso Consulting. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 10, 2024


Miyelani Holeni

The 2024 South African elections have produced many surprises and deep revelations for many South Africans, proving that the voter has tremendous power to choose. The political landscape has shifted and will no longer be the same; views have been redefined, and the citizen has spoken.

I cannot help but wonder: what lies ahead from here onwards? As a voter, I want to believe that citizens are satisfied with exercising their full democratic right of voting, but I also want to espouse the view that the job of the citizen is not done yet. Citizens must shift from being just voters or supporters of democracy to being referees—active participants who question and shape the discourse of South Africa.

In the past 30 years, we have seen political parties emerge from the trenches of liberation to govern the country, and others that were part of the governing mix become opposition parties.

As citizens, we observed and experienced a new landscape where the African National Congress was the governing party and co-opted all other parties to be part of the government. When this imploded, yet another shift took place, but citizens continued to support the democratic landscape with faith in our leaders. If anything, this landscape taught us about the role of being a citizen of our country and about expressing our wishes, desires, and needs through the ballot.

Fast-forward to 2024, and we are facing a very different landscape from the one we previously experienced, but throughout this journey, our voice became faint, and our role remained that of a disillusioned supporter. I ply my skills in the local government space, and in this role, I must follow closely the cues from national and provincial government to drive interventions that solve the problems of people on the ground.

Local government led the trend of coalitions before we even imagined it could become a reality at the national and provincial levels, a testimony that people on the ground are much more attuned to their wishes, desires, and needs.

The changes on the ground took place because of fundamental and sacrosanct issues that citizens felt were not being addressed, and now this message is ringing loud at the national and provincial spheres of government. We are now experiencing a failure of the system of government after witnessing the inadequacy of local government in meeting the wishes, desires, and needs of citizens.

In the firm where I work, we consult with local, district, metropolitan, provincial, and national departments at various levels, which enables us to interact firsthand with the issues on the ground. We also conduct research on several key areas and publish benchmarking reports, yet we see the common themes that hinder the delivery of the fruits of democracy.

Firstly, most of the citizens I have interacted with over my 14 years in local government vote not for the popularity of a political party, and I hope not for the popularity of the leaders on the ballot papers. Citizens believe they are voting for a party that will install people who will help them realize their aspirations and ensure service delivery.

Service delivery is crucial for citizens as it facilitates a better life where electricity, water, sewer, refuse services, identity documents, healthcare, roads, courts, and safety are accessible. This highlights how citizens measure the performance of government despite its three spheres. In the mind of the citizen, there is only one government, and any failure at any sphere is a failure of the government as a whole. Therefore, the new governing parties must aim to integrate government to act as one, in complete alignment from policy to budgets for rolling out services to citizens.

Secondly, I believe voters are voting for good governance free from prejudice, corruption, and maladministration. Citizens are looking for leaders they can trust to do the right things for the benefit of South Africans. As citizens, we believe our vote is a process of activating trust between us and the politicians, which must be reciprocal. In this new administration and subsequent ones, we need leaders who will prioritize the economic sustainability of our beloved country, produce jobs, eradicate poverty, and close the jarring inequality gap.

The new governing leaders must lead the economic cluster of government with a vision of creating prosperity for our country and its people. The economic cluster of government must include all spheres of government, such as finance and local economic departments at municipalities, all treasury departments, and trade and industry at provincial and national levels. In this regard, the District Development Model holds a lot of promise, but it must not just be the agenda of Cooperative Governance but a programme of the government in totality.

My third assertion is the conviction that a well-performing country must not only draft policies for the social transformation of the South African landscape, but must also live and promote social cohesion. We voted not for division in its different forms but for unity that embraces our diversity across this beautiful country. For years, we have displayed our rich culture and heritage only at events; it is time we harness our true diversity and interweave it into the fabric of our new landscape.

Prosperous countries like China have long realized that social cohesion is built through embracing the diversity of cultures that make up their nation to build one China despite all challenges. Social cohesion can contribute to a happier and more productive nation, helping to lessen crime and improve the general health and well-being of our nation. We must build this country into a single nation that will be a force to be reckoned with, akin to the US and other superpowers. Despite our size, our voice in Africa and the world reverberates on important issues, and even more so if we summon our collective might as a nation.

Finally, I want to live in a country that is not a laggard, a beggar, nor a laughingstock of the world. South Africa has, over the years, built a strong industrialisation capability through financial, scientific, engineering, agricultural, and human development institutions. We boast a track record of being leaders in defence technology, petrochemicals, and financial technology.

The new governing parties, in whatever form or shape, need to take up the mantle of regaining the position of being leaders in innovation and industry development. I want to live in a South Africa that is highly competitive and can create entrepreneurs who build unicorns that will attract investment. We need to see the remoulding of the scientific, human, financial, and industrial pillars of our country.

All of this will not be achieved if citizens remain mere supporters of political parties or personalities. Until we, as citizens, take up our role as active participants, those whom we vote for will continue to govern without accountability to the voter, who must act as a referee to ensure they do the right things based on our constitution. I unequivocally assert that voters must play a leading role in the coming 30 years of democracy.

We must participate in councils, legislatures, and Parliament, comment on new bills, and insist on our wishes, desires, and needs being encapsulated in all government policies and legislation. Importantly, we must push our government to implement our wishes, desires, and needs in full. If we are not happy with the pace, progress, or posture, we must remember that we have the power to vote them out. We can determine the type of coalitions that must be formed to deliver on our wishes, desires, and needs. The next thirty years must be the years of active citizens, not mere supporters or apologetic spectators.

Miyelani Holeni is a Revenue and Governance expert and serves as the Group Chief Advisor at Ntiyiso Consulting.

The Star