Conversations with my sons and daughters: The sacred duty of being voters

2011-03-26 08:49

I would like to introduce the first of our conversations with a welcome to you as fellow citizens and voters.

A special welcome to the 18 year olds who are the youngest members of the voters club who have just registered this year.

It is a privilege to be able to shape the future of our country through the thoughtful exercise of your vote.

My generation was only able to vote for the first time in our forties in 1994.

Being a voter is a privilege that many died to secure for us. We should therefore treat it as a sacred duty in honour of their sacrifices. Casting one’s vote is making your voice heard as a citizen.

Your voice carries weight.Voters are shareholders of a democracy with rights and responsibilities.

Like shareholders in a company, voters should familiarize themselves with the rules, the expectations and the procedures of the running of their company.

Our national constitution sets out essential values, rights and obligations governing South Africa Incorporated. It is essential reading.

South African citizens have committed themselves to build a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.

This is an ambitious vision for a society that has only recently become a democracy.

The question to you is how are you living your lives in order to give expression to these democratic values?

Two recent events that marred the Human Rights Day celebrations make me wonder if our society is ready to practice these values.

First, was the Sharpville Event addressed by Premier of Gauteng, Ms Mokonyane where ANC and PAC supporters clashed. This was a clash about ownership of the day which is claimed by the PAC.

It was under Robert Sobukwe as leader of the PAC that thousands marched to demonstrate their defiance of the hated pass laws on the 21st of March 1960 in Sharpville .

The march ended in a massacre by police of about 69 people.

The day used to be known as Sharpville Day but was changed by the post-apartheid government into Human Rights Day.

 Many PAC supporters feel bitter about the lack of adequate recognition of the role of Robert Sobukwe, and the PAC in the level of the struggle for freedom.

But why should a difference of view lead to physical confrontation?

Democracy is about defending the right of all to be heard, even those with whom you disagree.

We have to learn not only to be tolerant of other views but welcoming of them as an expression of the vibrancy of our democracy.

The second event was the Human Rights Day celebration at Athlone Stadium in Cape Town addressed by President Zuma.

This was a national event to which all political parties were invited and not an ANC rally for the party faithful.

It was distressing to see how Ms Patricia De Lille was booed and heckled by ANC T-shirt bedecked people who did not even respect being admonished by their own party leaders.

The hecklers have no understanding that national days are inclusive of everybody not just the party faithful.

They also don’t understand that President Zuma is the president of South Africa not just of the ANC.

The event was organized and paid for as a national event.

The nation is larger than the ANC.

We need to make sure that young and old understand the importance of separating the party, the President, the nation/ the state as the all encompassing totality.

The sheer lack of respect for the Office of the Premier of the Western Cape, and of Ms De Lille who was acting Premier is disappointing.

Educating for democracy is an area we have neglected at our peril as a young democracy.

We seem to have forgotten that all of us have come new to democracy. We should have it as a compulsory part of the Life Skills curriculum.

We need to learn what it means to practice the democratic values we signed up for: -Human Dignity, the achievements of equality and the advancement of human rights-Non-racialism and non-sexism-Supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law-Universal adult suffrage, a multi-party system of democratic government to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.

The gap between these values and daily experiences of ordinary people is huge.

The two events I referred to above are mild compared to the destructive protests that flash on our TV screens with frightening regularity. Citizens are the sovereigns – the owners of this democracy.

Angry owners cannot destroy their own property because of no-responsiveness of the government at local, provincial or national levels. Service Delivery Protests cannot replace the firm, dignified authentic voice of citizens.

Destruction is a sign of lack of understanding of who the real owners of South Africa are. It is not the government. The government is merely the manager voted in by shareholders – the citizens as owners.

If the managers under-perform or fail to correct the mistakes made then the appropriate response should be voting them out and installing new managers.

Holding the government accountable and ensuring that the right people with the right skills are running the business of state is a major responsibility of citizenship.

Citizens should also be willing to devote time to monitoring the performance of those managing the state on our behalf. Exercising your vote is only the beginning.

Citizens are expected to keep a watchful eye on how things are going between elections.

Are election promises made being met?

How are election promises translating into improvements on the ground in the lives of ordinary people not just your life?

Final note is about broadening your horizons as a citizen.

You need to ensure that you make informed choices in life at the personal, professional and political levels.

Political choices are not about popularity contests.

They should be about support those with policies and capabilities to help our society realize its potential.

We live in an inter-connected world which offers you opportunities to know how other democracies work and what the strengths and weaknesses of different systems work.

The power of information technology to connect you to your peers elsewhere should be harnessed for your own personal and professional development.

Your vote gives you the platform to shape the society you live in.

It is a privilege and a sacred duty to be a voter. As a citizen you are a leader in your own right.

Your life as a person, as professional and as a political actor should be infused with the democratic values that are the foundations of our society.

Use your vote wisely to ensure that future generations will inherit a society you will be proud to bequeath them.

Mamphela RampheleFounder of Letsema Circle

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