“Power belongs to the people until they vote, then they are represented.”
This is the time of pledges and hope. A time when misogynists are promising to uphold women’s rights, homophobes championing LGBTI rights, racists speaking about the struggle and xenophobes talking Pan-Africanism.
A time when you realise who really shares your views and who really thinks you are “one of them”.
It’s election time. A period that is seen to be the cornerstone of any self-respecting democracy. We are encouraged to vote, to tap into the “rights we fought for”. But once all the fanfare dies down what are we really left with?
We are left with cities littered with posters, empty promises and some great T-shirts we can sleep in/do house chores in. This is because we seem to think that once we have cast our ballot our role in this great play called “21st Century Democracy” stops.
What many forget is that voting is but a small part of the entire process. The rest is about holding these “representatives” accountable for the entire period of time they roam they hallowed halls of Parliament, eating all that free food and blowing all that hot air.
Government is a labyrinth where people go in heroes and come out monsters. You can go in with the best intentions and get beaten by the system making you one of those iPad-toting, empty promise peddling wind bags that are greasier than a bacon and egg sandwich after a night of heavy debauchery.
The only way they can remain true to the ideals they went in with is if they are constantly reminded of them by the people they made promises to.
Everyone thinks their party will be different once in power, it won’t.
Take your pick: DA, EFF, Agang or even the African Democratic Christian Party. If the electorate does not rein them in they will find new and innovative ways to be utterly and completely rubbish. It is not something that is characteristic only of the ANC.
Humans are humans and when placed in a position where they can be dodgy, they will be. So if they are to do their job, politicians need to be harassed.
In any nation there are some who are seen as dispensable and it is up to those who are not seen in this light to make sure the pool of “dispensable people” decreases through acts of accountability (notice how I danced around words such as privilege and class?).
It is a slippery slope in terms of keeping an eye on these political types. One minute we have Marikana, police brutality and Nkandla and the next people in Constantia are being rounded up.
You never think anything will happen to you until it does.
So know who your local representative is, have them on speed dial and call them when you get to work and say “just checking that we all went to work today”. Friend them on Facebook and poke them, if they are somewhere they should not be tag them in photos and Foursquare. Add them on LinkedIn and … well I am not sure what people do on LinkedIn, but do it.
This is the Parliament twitter account. You are welcome.
Go to portfolio committee meetings and eye-ball politicians. All you need is an ID, the start time and the name of the meeting — all of which are on the schedule, which can be procured from the PMG site.
Attend public hearings.
These are just some of the formal channels available many of which are being closed down quite effectively possibly because they are underutilised and unknown.
The only way that this beast we call democracy is going to work is if we monitor and check our “representatives” every step of the way, not just at elections.
Remember the wise words of PJ O’Rourke: “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Unchecked this could go very wrong very quickly.
We need to engage with our politicians rather than let them run wild. Even the smallest issues affect us all. If you do not call your politician on everything from service-delivery issues to poorly thought-out tweets then what is to stop them from doing far worse?
It is true that most people are trying to get by, that before one can picket one must pay bills. But everyday life is not removed from the actions of those within the corridors of power.
Without holding them accountable during the years between elections these politicians will dance with you, woo you and spend election night with you. Then in the morning they will not call, they will not text and they will not represent. In four years they will return, knocking on your door in the midnight hour whispering sweet nothings and you will hate yourself in the morning.
The voting process means nothing if politicians are allowed to disappear from the areas that need them and turn up every four years with food parcels and T-shirts.
Don’t be your politicians’ “weekend special”, South Africa.