/ 22 January 2024

Improve service delivery and votes will follow

Nothing short of excellence in service delivery at all political and economic spheres will save South Africa from its current “failing state” quagmire. (Darren Stewart/Gallo Images)

The year is still a blank slate, an opportunity to be audacious and breathe life into our dreams. It’s also an election year; a year where the voting public can exercise their right to choose their government. It’s not surprising to see campaigns gaining momentum as political parties jockey for visibility and relevance. Promises and pledges are flying thick and fast with assurances of a better life for all. 

Unfortunately with 2023 a recent memory and many of its problems unresolved, there’s little to look forward to. Locally, load-shedding still holds the economy to ransom, interest rates are rising, unemployment remains a problem particularly for the youth and corruption still hobbles service delivery. On the international front, the war in Ukraine shows little sign of abating, and the Gaza crisis is deepening. With so much misery it seems that all that sustains many South Africans after 29 years of ANC rule are the words from late Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

So, with hope in our hearts, this new year also holds the promise to become a watershed year in South African politics. This can be the year where there is a major realignment in our political system. Many analysts and theorists are already predicting a change in voting trends with a shift in political power from the current ruling party and how this might affect the future political and economic landscapes. 

Although the possibility of unseating the ANC governing party might be the wishful thinking of many, this is setting aspirations too low. What we should be aiming for is the total revision of the body politic where the country is less preoccupied with which political party is in power. Rather, we should have a revised system where the most capable politicians from all political parties come together in a “super parliament” that can drive the Batho Pele (people first) principles in which all organs of the state exist solely to fulfil their public service mandates. Nothing short of excellence in service delivery at all political and economic spheres will save South Africa from its current “failing state” quagmire.

Imagine the improved quality of life when public servants assume positions for the betterment of society, where service delivery is prioritised, citizens treated with respect, and all matters are dealt with efficiently and decisively. 

Politicians often laud our hard won democratic dispensation, acknowledge the many who paid the ultimate price in the struggle for human rights, and celebrate our progressive Constitution. But what is South Africa’s democracy worth when millions of its citizens are starving, more than 60% of the youth are unemployed, the nation is under threat from rampant criminality and the future sustainability of the country is at risk? It’s not surprising that many have lost faith in the democratic political system because votes don’t feed, don’t employ and don’t create a better life. 

What will ensure better lives for all is when we honestly own our mistakes and failures. Harvard academic Ronald Heifetz suggests that a leader should be able to confront reality and then do something about it. So, unless South Africa’s political leaders can acknowledge, own and improve on their failures, there is little chance of progress. And if they are unwilling or unable to improve, then consequence management of remediation or dismissals should be implemented.

Winning the hearts and minds of the voting public will require making hard political decisions and holding political office bearers to account. We know what our problems are. There are constant reminders. Late auditor general Kimi Makwetu’s municipal audit report 2018-19, under the theme “Not much to go around, yet not the right hands at the till” released early in 2020, highlighted the deep rooted corruption, incompetence, cronyism and political malfeasance that has plagued the body politic for many years. Much of this came to light at the Zondo Commission’s state capture hearings, and still we sit with the same malfeasance, few prosecutions and shameful impunity. 

Poor leadership, greed, the pursuit of self-interests and a lack of societal empathy have polluted our democracy and resulted in the proliferation of many ethical blindspots. These prevent miscreants from seeing the disastrous outcomes of their actions. 

So, with the elections in a couple of months, winning over the voting public should be easy, but only if the politicians and service providers focus all efforts on building a capable state; a state that prioritises the well-being of all its citizens.

Rudi Kimmie is a personal and organisational development specialist. He writes in his personal capacity.