Ian Dewar
Ian Dewar

The rainbow’s back

Mark August 14 2012 as a significant day in South African history because at a most remarkable meeting held in Botrivier on that day, the institutional process of Theewaterskloof (TWK) local government truly engaged, for the first time ever, with the Botrivier community process of democratic participation in the practical matters of local government.

After suffering serious angst from two angry protests held by the community, along with two subsequent months of drastic tension while trying to help get a meaningful mediation process under way, my expectation of this meeting had been, quite frankly, rather low indeed. How wrong I was.

TWK government chose to bring to the meeting four councillors (one of them the deputy mayor, and one of them the speaker) the municipal manager, four departmental directors, the Botrivier town manager and several excellent support staff. This turnout was very, very impressive indeed. But most significantly of all what they also brought was genuine goodwill and a serious intent to engage meaningfully with the whole community of Botrivier.

For the first time since the giddy days of the RDP I awoke the following morning to feel that a rainbow was glimmering over Botrivier. But once the euphoria wore off I still found myself wondering was this process for real? Could we in our little town have actually made a breakthrough towards establishing real constitutional democracy?

Well, for an answer, there was another meeting held yesterday, August 15, which I believe proved beyond doubt that we had. This second meeting was also attended by two ministers from provincial government along with several of their senior support staff, and was a mind-boggling event I tell you. Under the chairmanship of our most excellent local intervention manager, the Botrivier Residents Association, TWK municipal manager, TWK speaker of council and ministers of provincial government had an open discussion about a very broad range of critical local issues.

To cut a long story short, the outcome of this incredibly positive discussion can best be summed up in the words of by far the most cynical member of the Botrivier contingent. In a relaxed discussion with the speaker afterwards he remarked, “I never thought I would see this day in my lifetime”. With the radical divisiveness in our national politics over the last few years, I must admit I harboured serious doubts about this eventually as well. But now I truly believe this breakthrough is very real indeed.

What this simple, frank and open, joint discussion process revealed for me were two crucial things.

1) All that holds back meaningful progress in this country are the tedious little mindset boxes that restrict and conflict our different roles and functions in the whole process of building “the democratic community” our Constitution requires for it to function properly at all.

2) Removing the divisiveness of party politics from the local democratic process, as well as from the domain of professional local, provincial and national government opens all of these awful mindset boxes, and provides the freedom of democratic expression for the “whole” of government to begin really working, as it constitutionally should.

These two things I have experienced for real over the last two days, and I can assure you they established a quite astounding process to be part of. There is obviously much work still to do in order to anchor this new process of complimentary cooperation into our everyday reality, but it is safe to say for now that, for all of us here in Botrivier, the rainbow is truly back.

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