In 2018, civil society observed a rise in civic activism, a spirited effort by ordinary citizens that challenged the status quo in many ways, demanding better services from government at all levels of governance as well as holding it accountable for its actions and decisions.
As result, the nation saw numerous Cabinet reshuffles and resignations, the establishment of commissions of enquiry, as well as a scrutiny of government promises and decisions on politically sensitive issues such as the land question.
This year is a critical one for the country; there are expectations for the government to deliver on last year’s promises concerning job creation and the promotion of good governance in the public sector, including municipalities and state-owned enterprises.
Civil society expects speedy implementation of policy decisions that were promised last year, especially with regard to the Public Audit Amendment Bill 2018, which gave the auditor general Kimi Makwetu authority to act against public officials implicated in the misappropriation of government resources.
In his report, Makwetu noted that government’s irregular expenditure had reached R50-billion, five times more than the total in 2017. The nation has hailed the Bill as an extraordinary step towards fighting corruption, and its implementation may turn the tide of state misappropriation of finances, providing a glimmer of hope.
The media played a significant role of enlightening South Africa’s citizens on several such issues. It is prudent to expect the media to sustain its citizen education project with responsible and ethical journalism. The media and civil society present an active advocacy effort to ensure not only that citizens remain informed of the state of affairs in the country, but also that they are empowered with factual information to be able to execute their civic responsibilities. Their collaborative efforts are needed, especially as national and provincial elections will be held in 2019; citizens need to be politically aware so that they can make informed choices at the ballots.
Civil society will continue in its role of mobilising, activating and educating citizens before they participate in the upcoming elections. This mammoth task requires partnerships with government, its agencies, political parties, the independent electoral commission, labour unions, the private sector, citizen interest groups and religious formations. Citizens must be empowered to participate in the elections with confidence, so that they can freely exercise their choice. Civic and voter education is essential in deepening democracy in the country. Citizens have a civic responsibility, as articulated in chapter 15 of the National Development Plan (NDP), which summarises their responsibilities as follows:
- We are responsible for ensuring the right to equality — treating every person equally, fairly and with no discrimination whatsoever;
- We must treat people with reverence, respect and dignity, ensuring their right to human dignity;
- We must respect, protect and defend human life;
- We are responsible for ensuring the right to family care, honouring and respecting family;
- We must respect people’s right to own property;
- We must solve any conflict amicably, using acceptable means that respect the rights of all the people involved;
- We must protect our natural environment, and respect and protect animal and plant life;
- We must respect each other’s religions, beliefs and opinions;
- We must work hard and do our best in everything we do. Living a good and successful life and attaining worthwhile things involves hard work; and
- We must obey the laws of the country, ensuring that others do so as well, and contribute in every possible way towards making South Africa a great country.
All these civic responsibilities are critical to promote national unity and enhance our collective efforts of keeping government in check. This year promises renewal as citizens take up their rightful, vigilant place in society and work together towards safeguarding our hard-won democracy.
Our power is in our vote, so let’s do the right thing – register and vote. Your vote carries our hopes and aspirations; it has the power to redeem us from any sense of hopelessness. It’s in your hands as a citizen!
Paul Kariuki is executive director at the Democracy Development Programme in Durban. These are his own views