OPINION | Omphemetse Sibanda: Don't be a fool for an election promise

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The author writes that we must be circumspect on who we are voting for.
The author writes that we must be circumspect on who we are voting for.
Gallo Images/Misha Jordaan

Omphemetse Sibanda questions whether we will see a return back to the current levels of service delivery once the elections are over. He encourages voters not to be fooled by promises.


The recent South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) report, detailing poor service delivery in the North West should be nothing new for residents in the province. 

"The situation is deeply concerning. Where we started in Zeerust, there are villages that are without water at all. Yesterday we went to Delareyville and Sannieshof the situation is also really concerning. Some of the residents there are subjected to live as though they have no constitutional rights. There are sewage spillages in people's yards, in streets, roads are inaccessible. Graveyards are flooded with sewage. It smells. There is a strong stench. Some residents have to deal with human excrement flowing into their yards," said Osmond Mngomezulu, North West Provincial Manager.

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I do not want to sound like a mockingbird that makes a lot of irritating, repeating noise but when it comes to issues of service delivery and election promises, but I have to.  After all, Scientific American reckons that mockingbirds "are better musicians than we thought. Their complex songs have striking similarities to Beethoven, Tuvan throat singing, a Disney musical and Kendrick Lamar."

One wonders if we have done enough to educate the nation that they have no constitutional or any other obligation to vote a political party or individual into governance. What the nation has is the Constitutional power to change their long-standing suffering and inhumane service delivery at the hands of some unscrupulous and self-serving criminals who masquerade as agents of change.

You need not look further than local areas such as Zeerust, Sannieshof, and Ottosdal in the North-West Province, where a cemetery covered in human excrement is considered normal. Those in power in these areas may not particularly care much as they can bury their dead at more affluent cemeteries, or worse still, they simply lack the basic education on good governance and public administration. 

Disrespect 

My understanding is that cemetery is an essential component of the urban infrastructure system. This must be known by every local authority manager or local council that was appointed to serve the people and to exercise the constitutional responsibility on behalf of the national government.

Residents in towns like Agisanang and Letsopa, for example, are familiar with the disrespect shown to them by local authorities.  Some of these towns shouldn't even be called towns anymore. They deserve to be called wastelands.

At election time, those wanting to remain in power suddenly see the suffering of the people. Some of these politicians use and abuse the level of knowledge of some of the inhabitants in the areas as they try to dupe them into voting. They hang posters on every street pole, with populist messages which are sometimes aversive, uncivil and lack normative attributes.   

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Previously on this platform, I noted that there are few judicial options that have recourse in our courts to foster compliance with election manifesto promises. A similar attempt to litigate unfulfilled election manifesto promises has been rejected elsewhere.

However, I am not particularly convinced that there is no legal basis for such a unique remedy in South Africa. Let us consider the following, for example: During the unveiling of their election manifestos for their respective parties, both Gwede Mantashe of the ANC and Julius Malema of the EFF indicated that theirs are election commitments and not election promises.

"This manifesto is not a book of promises, but it's a list of commitments," said Malema. Interestingly, the DA has been quick to highlight that voters have responsibilities. "Residents have rights and responsibilities. This offer relies, among other duties, on residents discarding their litter responsibly, and helping municipalities attend to matters quickly by logging service issues," the DA 2021 local government manifesto says. Easier said when politicians see no need to proactively attend to service delivery challenges – those that already exist as well as potential challenges. 

How do you ensure that as a country, we rid ourselves of inhumane service delivery, corruption and maladministration at local municipalities? It is simple: We must agitate — and agitate. There is a metaphor that calls to strike "while the iron is hot". 

To do that, you must picture a blacksmith taking sustained turns to tap the red-hot rot or nail as they try to create a sharp 18th-century style trade hatchet from the original ball-peen hammer.

Don't fall for promises that won't be fulfilled

If you wonder what I am talking about just give yourself time to reflect on the election manifestos of all parties in South Africa contesting the next municipal elections to avoid being fooled again.

We can only hope that this time our politicians are not lying through their teeth and that they will bring meaningful change, particularly to downtrodden communities. But I am not going to hold my breath, as I fear I will suffocate. I can bet a penny that post-elections, our lives will go back to normal. And by normal, I sarcastically mean continued suffering.

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We will probably revert back to a situation, as recently highlighted by the SAHRC in its Report on Water and Sanitation in Schools where children attending more than 3,000 public schools from Eastern Cape, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and the Western Cape are likely to meet their untimely death by falling into pit toilet, where there is no water and sanitation at schools, increasing youth unemployment; children and women-headed households struggling to make ends meet; and  where tenderpreneurs are given more opportunities to overcharge and milk the state for their sub-standard services when they country has a massive public works division.  

As previously said by the Chief Justice of India; it is concerning that electoral promises habitually remain unfulfilled and "manifestos have become a mere piece of paper", in which political parties are not accountable. As Brenda Fassie once warned: Don't fall for promises that will never be fulfilled.

 - Professor Dr Omphemetse S Sibanda, Legal Scholar Without Borders, is a Professor of Law and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law at the University of Limpopo. He holds a Doctor of Laws (in International Economic Law) from North-West University, a Master of Laws from Georgetown University Law Centre, US; and an LLB (Hon) and B Juris from the former Vista University, Soweto Campus.

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