Mamphela Ramphele

The inter-generational responsibility of citizens' votes

2019-04-02 05:00
Pro-Cyril Ramaphosa ANC members picket outside ANC provincial offices in Durban yesterday.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

Pro-Cyril Ramaphosa ANC members picket outside ANC provincial offices in Durban yesterday.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

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There are two sets of key actors who need to step up and help turn this ship of state around, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Dear fellow citizens, since the beginning of the struggle for the liberation of this wonderful country, we have struggled with an eye to the future; a future of a free society where all of us have liberty to seek to express ourselves freely in thought word and deed. 

The gift and the burden of that free expression is that nothing in this country is kept a secret for very long. Long may that be celebrated and jealously guarded. But we must admit that the truth is hard to read sometimes.

I am sure you, like myself, are horrified at what we are learning about our beloved country through the various commissions of inquiry. It seems like every day, more truths are unearthed, painting a darker and darker picture about our previous leadership. We do not yet know the total cost, but what we know is that future generations will have to bear a significant part of the burden of that cost. 

We will have to confess to the next generation our complicity in incurring the huge cost of having chosen a severely compromised former president whom many still profess their love for.

Some experts are telling us that over a trillion rands has been directly lost. The growing debt burden has to be added to that loss, it's estimated at R2 trillion, which is attributable to recapitalising state owned enterprises that have been milked by looters and rendered dysfunctional. This too will fall on the next generations. 

The opportunity costs are even higher, but difficult to fully calculate their value in monetary terms. Our just transition to a low carbon energy regime has been sabotaged. The ground breaking Independent Power Producer Program (IPPP) with its feed-in tariff system was deliberately undermined to divert money into badly designed, built and operated coal fired power stations with high cost overruns and hopelessly delayed. We now have the worst of all worlds – continuing high carbon footprint and inadequate energy to power our economy and social lives. Here too, our grandchildren can rightfully curse us for putting their wellbeing and that of our biosphere at risk. 

The burden borne by the poorest of us in the form of inadequate education, health care and other public services drive the growing inequalities and injustices of our society. Here too we are morally responsible for lengthening the cycle of poverty for future generations.

We have also failed even at the straight forward job of talent development of all citizens which robs the country of the creative energy our society so desperately needs to heal the wounds of our ugly past and launch us into a future of shared prosperity. 

Our new president seems isolated in his quest to help clean up our leading institutions with some in his top six seemingly too compromised to fight for South Africa's future. How do we help this country's leaders to see the right thing to do when they are too busy hiding their wrongs? How can citizens be expected to elect the main actors in the state capture saga that is unfolding in the major commissions of inquiry that has cost so much? If they are so confident about their innocence, why can't they step aside until they have cleared their names? 

The attitude of some of the highest public officials of the governing party demonstrates a complete disdain and disregard for ethics and public accountability of public representatives to citizens. What kind of society are we to disregard unethical behaviour that is at variance with the core values of Ubuntu enshrined in our Constitution? Legalistic arguments to protect wrong doers are indicators of serious moral decay. 

We should also be alarmed at the immeasurable damage done to the fabric of the public service by the culture of impunity that has taken root over the last decade. The impact of imposition of unethical leaders who make unreasonable demands on professionals has led to serious disruptions. Some professionals have experienced career limitations for refusing to cave in. Many skilled professionals have been unemployed for years because of the fear factor amongst private sector players who are intimidated into not hiring them. 

Those who caved into the demands to enable state capture have been so seriously compromised that they are unlikely to be rehabilitated. This is a tragedy in a society where there is such scarcity of talent in relation to needs. Some of the best brains nurtured in the dying days of apartheid have been disabled by corruption. Many others – black and white – have had to leave our country in search of peace of mind and safety for themselves and their families. This horrendous talent wastage is unquantifiable. 

Another unquantifiable creative cost is the missed opportunities of entrepreneurs who were marginalised in favour of those willing to be part of the looting machinery. It is not surprising that we are a country that has a very high allocation of resources for stimulating entrepreneurship with the least return on investment. Resources in the development finance institutions are routinely diverted to tenderpreneurs rather than to young creative business leaders. 

What shall we do now? There are two sets of key actors who need to step up and help turn this ship of state around. The first are citizens in whose name governance is executed. Citizens need to stand up against this fundamental disrespect and further erosion of our public service and talent wastage. We need to challenge this culture of impunity and only vote for those worthy of our trust. It is time for citizens to rise to the challenge of anchoring the democratic system they would like to see in our country.

We, the people need to declare in uncompromising terms that we will not vote for parties that knowingly field candidates who are under a cloud of corruption or any unethical behaviour undermining our core values of Ubuntu.   

The hard lessons of tolerating unaccountable public servants over the last decade are that corrupt candidates become corrupt leaders. They act with impunity because electing them, despite their questionable characters and the cloud hanging over them, gives them the legitimacy to preside over the abuse of public resources. 

The SACC National Convention's Citizen Manifesto released last month spells out clear standards, norms and measures to use in assessing whom we can entrust with our vote. We need to reshape our democracy into a demand driven one in which we enter into a social contract with those who propose to represent us.

Anchoring democracy also requires follow through to regularly assess the performance of public representatives and hold them accountable for agreed deliverables. Such a demand driven system anchored by engaged citizens is the only long-term antidote to impunity in public service.   

The second set of actors is good people within the ANC. They need to recognise the urgent need for transformation of this liberation movement into an accountable democratic party. Banking on fostering loyalty through family and comradeship is no longer appropriate for a 21st century democratic party that has to serve all citizens. 

We, the people must also make strong basic demands to strengthen the foundations of a more accountable political process. The following are basic requirements: 

- Introducing civic education in our school curriculum in Life Orientation as well as at tertiary level as part of student development programs to cultivate responsible citizenship and embracing of the core values of Ubuntu. Work places also need to promote civic education and duty to rebuild this nation.

- Implementing Prof Stan Sangweni's public service code of governance that has been encoded in the SACC's Citizen Manifesto. Every public servant needs to be oriented to understand the requirements of serving the public in accordance with our Constitution, and take this oath of office. 

- Parliament needs to reopen discussions on better balance between the power of political parties with  accountability to citizens. A mixed electoral system should be explored again to include constituency representatives beyond proportional representation. It is imperative to remember that the power to elect leaders we can trust is in our hands. This power was secured at a high price in the struggle for freedom. No one should be allowed to take this power from us. We owe it to our children's children and our biosphere to use this power wisely. 

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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