Indifferent rulers breed civil activism

2012-05-19 10:52

While we applaud Gauteng North High Court Judge Jody Kollapen’s ruling that the basic education department’s failure to provide textbooks for students at Limpopo schools violated their constitutional right to education, we are saddened that South African children have to rely on the court’s intervention on their behalf to get what should be a non-derogable right for South African children.

Our spirits were lifted when Freedom Under Law (FUL) initiated a court action to interdict crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli from taking any police responsibility until the serious allegations against him, which include murder, kidnapping and fraud, were satisfactorily resolved.

FUL’s argument was that if the minister of police did not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the charges that Mdluli was facing, then the courts would have to make him.

Just last month, the courts ruled that the ­controversial e-tolling on Gauteng highways should be held in abeyance ­after civil society ­formations decided to remind those in power that they exercised this power in trust and on behalf of the citizens.

Going to law is a growing trend and one that we welcome warmly, while we recognise it as a symptom of a state whose ability to replace its rhetoric with action of any benefit to its citizens is quickly losing any credibility.

The governing party is often quick to create the impression that its opponents use the courts to co-govern or undermine the government’s right to rule.

It is a ridiculous claim. South Africa is a constitutional democracy which means that the Constitution, and not Parliament, is supreme.

If the state will not do what is required of it, as the children of Limpopo who have gone half the school year without textbooks can testify, someone must make the state accountable.

Instead of taking out its wrath on those who now see the courts as the last avenue for social justice, they should rather make those people ­deployed to their positions accountable for how they serve the poor and execute their functions.

Civil society formations that end up doing what a caring state ought to have done without any fanfare are accidental heroes.

They are products of the shame that should be experienced by those who wield power but do not use it responsibly.

Such institutions speak of the failure of the state to do what it was mandated to do. In an open democracy, citizens who want to contest elections do so openly.

The average citizen with no such interest who would rather be going about his or her own business, raising a family and ­enjoying personal interests, gets pulled into the type of activism we witness.

The movement for access to information is therefore part of encouraging active citizenship. You need to know what the state has in mind to play your role as a vigilant citizen properly.

However, active citizenry should not be an ­outcome of crises.

We all need to start taking an interest in the state’s plans, asking tough questions and not waiting until they are about to be implemented, because sometimes that is too late.

Finally, active citizenry can be the difference ­between whether we remain a democracy or ­become yet another state ruled by those who wield guns and think themselves accountable to nobody.

Evil does indeed flourish when good men and women plead indifference to what is going on around them.

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