Protests should be the last resort for addressing grievances

Thursday, June 30, 2016

By Minister of planning, monitoring and evaluation in the Presidency Jeff Radebe

There have been a number of violent protests in various parts of the country recently.  The reasons for the protests vary, but inevitably the legitimacy of protests get undermined by lawlessness and looting.

When viewed in a vacuum, a case could be made to excuse such behaviour depending on the prevailing circumstances. However, that argument falls flat given the many avenues that are available in our democracy for people or communities to address any grievances.  

Communities and individuals who are unhappy can express their dissatisfaction through a number of constructive platforms. These include public participation forums, Izimbizo, public hearings and other processes.

These platforms and others are part of government’s commitment to an open society which values and relies on the input of its citizens. We are a caring society that guarantees the rights of all through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.   

The Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.

Rights that many now take for granted such as the right to vote, equality, the right to assembly and freedom of expression are all protected by the Bill of Rights.

However, our democracy also holds its citizens to a higher standard.  It calls on everyone to uphold our democratic principles and work towards strengthening our democracy and our nation. Simply put; our democracy is only as strong as we make it.

The Constitution, our commitment to the rule of law, our institutions and the legislature, executive, and the judiciary are guarantors of our democracy.

Nonetheless, democracy is not only defined by institutions and laws. Democracy needs oxygen to thrive; it lives and breathes by our actions and deeds.  Our actions count; everything we do either strengthens our democracy or weakens it.  

The implications of our actions are often far reaching and at times have devastating consequences. When schools are destroyed, it’s not only the buildings which are damaged, but promising young lives are shattered as well. The impact on students who have sacrificed to be in a position to better their lives and that of their communities is real and often far reaching.    

Similar devastating consequences are also felt when clinics and other public infrastructure are not destroyed, as communities are deprived of essential services and the money which is needed to rebuild could have been used to further improve services. Such actions cannot continue.  Anarchy and violence only serve to exacerbate problems and is never the answer.

South Africa is known as the country which has resolved the most intractable of issues through dialogue and we should continue with this tradition. Together we must find a better and more constructive way to deal with our challenges.

The government needs your support in building stronger communities and ensuring that we work for communities. All South Africans should play an active oversight role in their communities and hold government to account. Public oversight will ensure that government works for the people and that services reach those they are meant to, especially persons living in rural areas, the poor, women and children.   

Getting involved is part of being an active citizen, and empowers individuals to become the change they want to see. 

On August 3, eligible voters will make their mark for democracy during the municipal elections.  Participating in elections is one way in which South Africans can have a direct say in the governance of their local community.    

We therefore call on South Africans to vote to make our democracy and our communities stronger.