Mandela Day 2019: Is our democracy in decline?

For 25 years, South Africa’s maturing democracy has experienced its fair share of twists and turns. On what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday, the fight for an ethical and efficient Constitutional democracy that puts the interest of the people first, is ongoing and seems it might not abate soon.

As we pay tribute and honour all founding fathers and mothers of our struggle like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Winnie Mandela and numerous others for fighting apartheid and establishing a democratic society, critical questions need to be asked about the health and status of our democracy at this present moment. Is it the South Africa the stalwarts gave their life for?

What would they have expected of those they left behind to nurture what they birthed? These and other questions continue to linger in the minds of most citizens in the country as they grapple with ongoing revelations of maladministration and corruption in municipalities and state-owned enterprises.

While citizens recognize the hard work done by most ethical leaders in public, private and civil society sectors, as well as by ordinary South Africans over the last few years to protect our democracy, the sense of disappointment lingers in their hearts.

The fight against corruption is far from over and continues to threaten the foundations of our democracy.

Moreover, they undermine the essence of democracy in our country.

The recently released Auditor General’s report indicating the extent of corruption and poor governance in most of our municipalities, is indicative of the threat that corruption poses to our democracy.

Every effort by government to rebuild efficient and promote ethical governance remains elusive, as many public officials remain unaccountable for their misdeeds.

It is disconcerting to note that some state institutions and public agencies continue to be used in hampering efforts to promote good governance and make all spheres of governance operate in the best interests of all South Africans.

Against this background, the pillars of our democracy seem to be facing a threat and needs all citizens from all walks of life and backgrounds to take active interest in holding our leaders accountable, both in public and private sectors.

Otherwise the government’s plans to positively transform the lives of South Africans and all who live in the country are at stake.

As a nation, we are at a crossroads and the time to act against every threat to our democracy is now.

All citizens across the country need to be vigilant and participate actively in public life to defend our hard-won democracy that our founding fathers and mothers fought for.

As South Africans we should unite in confronting the maladies that have gripped our public and private sectors, and collectively commit to end corruption and all networks associated with the scourge.

Until we are resolute about eliminating these and other scourges plaguing our maturing constitutional democracy, future generations will hold us accountable for our inaction and possible complacency.

Therefore, in remembrance of Nelson Mandela, the founding father of our democracy, and in the spirit of guarding it in his honour:

•As citizens, we must continue voicing our dissatisfaction with any form of maladministration, wherever it is found, including in both public and private sectors;

•Civil society must continue advocating that any compromised public and private personalities holding official positions within government and corporates including the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) found to have participated in acts of maladministration be held accountable;

•Collectively continue to support public officials who have stood up against corruption and other forms of maladministration in society;

•Continue advocacy about political party funding and exert pressure on political parties in demanding openness and transparency;

•Demand enforcement of ethical public service as a norm across all spheres of governance;

•Continue exerting moral pressure on political parties to continue tackling corruption and all its forms, even if it is done by members from their own parties.

This is a clarion call for us all to stand up and defend our democracy. Every citizen, irrespective of political ideologies and orientation has a critical role to play in ensuring our democracy and its institutions are guarded against any potential threat aimed at weakening them.

More importantly, we must continue holding our public officials and civil servants to account.

We want public officials who are honest, trustworthy and uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior in their service to the public.

The nation is yearning for an accountable and ethical public service. The time to stand up and be counted is now. Mandela Day is about advancing and deepening democracy just like Nelson Mandela did every day.

Dr. Paul Kariuki, is the Executive Director of Democracy Development Program (DDP), a national NGO based in Durban, KwaZulu Natal.

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