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No government can take away our rights

By Amukelani Mayimele

When you vote you change nothing. Things will only change if we change our way of thinking and do things for ourselves. Figures show that we vote but do we hold our leaders accountable? Do we know the policies that are approved on our behalf? Do we recommend solutions to government? Are we the principal or are we being (mis)led?

In a democratic country the power should flow from the citizens to the leaders of government. The key responsibility of citizens is then to participate in public life. Citizens have an obligation to become knowledgeable about public issues. They must vigilantly observe how their political leaders and congress use their powers. Conversely, elected leaders should pay attention to the people and react to their needs and proposals. After all the people elected them believing that they would best represent them and their interests. This is not always the case.

Who are elected members of Parliament really representing? Where are the individuals who are supposed to observe how the business of government is carried out? Do we recognise that we have the right to say and believe what we want?

We are allowed to write and say what we think. No government can take away those privileges from us. They are protected by the rule of law. Parliamentary government is a system of rules, not individuals. This law is intended to keep order and protect us. No government officer may infringe these rules. No one can tell the judge how to make a decision on a case. Office bearers cannot use their influence to enrich themselves. Yet our experiences in present-day society run contrary to these constitutionally enshrined stipulations. Is it solely the fault of corrupt public office bearers? No. Are we familiar with our responsibility as civilians?

We live in an environment whereby circumstances seem to contradict democracy. These conditions have left us feeling powerless, discouraged and confused. We have many complaints. We do not know who to blame for our discontent. We fight foreigners and we burn down councillors’ houses. We are frustrated. We need to ask ourselves a few questions.

Do we want to scream or do we want to be heard? Do you want to fight or do you want development? Why is that even though we know what to fight for, we fail on the approach. We adopt ways that are violent or disruptive. This usually compromises the issues we raise. We have to begin by questioning our objectives, then take action.

We should be more visible. We ought to work together with decision makers. We must take part on topics that matter. We have to make our recommendations and analysis to be heard beyond our circle of associates. We should work for our transformation. It is crucial to go beyond ticking a box on a ballot paper every five years. A change of mindset is required. We must bring to an end this mentality of consuming. We have subjected our intellect to thoughts about what you want. We scheme on ways of how we are going to obtain what we want. We stopped thinking about the bigger things in life. We have become dependent on people who sell us things. We have become needy people. We are dependent on the government to give us schools, roads or healthcare facilities. We have the wisdom to tackle our own problems. We can and we must create our own solutions. This will only come into reality once we all position ourselves and become roleplayers in our society.

Amukelani Mayimele is a One Young World ambassador. She is a transformation leader and student committed to addressing issues affecting humanity.


  • One Young World is a UK-based not-for-profit that gathers together the brightest young people from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections and develop lasting solutions to some of the world's most pressing issues. At the annual One Young World Summit, the most valuable young talent from global and national companies, NGOs, universities and other-forward thinking organisations are joined by world leaders, acting as the One Young World Counsellors.


  1. Morena Morena 26 September 2011

    It is fantastic that more and more young people are taking interest in current affairs and are willing to lend their voices to shape the future. Well done Amukelani, being part of the discussions will help you grow and your contribution will make a difference.

  2. Stephen Browne Stephen Browne 27 September 2011

    The first problem is your title – to be blunt, yes they can. It is happening all over the world, and it is happening in our own country. You can write as many articles as you like, but it does you no good if most of the relevant discontented cannot read or write. And no, I do not have a solution, other then a lesson from history. That lesson being after another 100 years of bloody, mindless struggle we will probably find ourselves in a better spot.

  3. Aragorn23 Aragorn23 27 September 2011

    Well said. You’re right that we need to shift from the ‘politics of demand’ and start taking responsibility. Perhaps we could even go one step further towards a genuinely participatory society and do away with all these hierarchical, ‘representative democracy’-style systems that inexorably corrupt even the most well-meaning politicians, leaders, bureaucrats, etc. Then, because we’d no longer have ‘leaders’ to hold accountable, we could hold ourselves and each other accountable instead, which seems a lot saner and more aligned with our social nature.

    Often, people seem to simply reproduce the existing order in their thinking and work around change, as though governance, voting, etc., were eternal parts of human experience and not just abstract systems that emerged in specific times and places.We need to challenge these assumptions if we want a genuine transformation in society – the state had a beginning and it can have an end, and we can foment other relations between human beings that don’t rely on such an impoverished conception of what needs to be in place for humanity to thrive.

    “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” – Emma Goldman

  4. Iain Iain 27 September 2011

    A black friend of mine paid me the best compliment the other day when she said “I keep forgetting that you are white and have to catch myself as I am about to speak to you in Zulu!”. This is the change that we need in this country where the mindset has changed and as a result of that we can then speak as one voice and become ‘roleplayers in our society’ and not aggressive opponents to the incumbent government

  5. peter nel peter nel 27 September 2011

    Words of wisdom. Amukelani has it absolutely right. We surely have the wisdom to tackle our own problems. Have we the will is the burning question and thereby lies the problem. The government feels that they are beyond the law and that we are their servants and that mindset has to change. They are appointed by us and so should perform their duties as per the mandate which we have given them. They state what is to occur and we accept – a simple “yes boss”. That is no longer acceptable as is evident in the Middle East turmoil. A monumental change in our mindset, resolve and determination to get ourselves out of the hole and create a new way of life for ourselves and our children is urgently needed and it is obvious to everyone that the intention of our present leaders is quite the contrary, which is to remain in power and ride the gravy train as long as possible. Well, the truh is that all this has to change and only we can do that. Complaining is not enough, we need to get to work before it is too late. Maybe that is no longer possible as our problems are becoming more severe by the minute and we need to be wary of becoming violent revolutionaries. Time to get to work now! Remember the words of C.J.Rhodes – so much to do and so little time – well worth remembering.

  6. John Patson John Patson 27 September 2011

    When you vote you change everything, if you vote for the right person. It is that simple. All the rest is half-baked anarchist nonsense.

  7. X Cepting X Cepting 27 September 2011

    First of all, perhaps an agreement should be reached with regards to who “we” are. If the majority of South Africans will except its paler brethren as part of the “we” who must find answers, then I am willing to contribute energy, time and brainpower as I did in more hopeful times. On the other hand, if I am to be Zimmed soon, I will spent my energies, although sadly, on finding a country where I can contribute and live and be accepted as part of “we”.

    Otherwise I fully agree about being needy and desperately needing to become independant in every way.

  8. ian shaw ian shaw 27 September 2011

    We have heard this tune too many times. Yet who (i.e.which party) are you going to vote for? This is in fact that makes our rules so arrogant, and impossible to hold accountable. Blacks are going to vote for the ANC even if they get robbed or shortchanged in the process. Period. Besides, to withhold the vote from a party can only happen every five years and this guarantees unbridled corruption during that time. Something must be terribly wrong with such a system which virtually guarantees no real opportunity to hold leaders accountable.

  9. Aragorn23 Aragorn23 27 September 2011

    @John: Voting is an endorsement of party politics. What if you’re opposed to the entire notion of (vaguely) representative democracy – who do you vote for then? Voting is possibly the ultimate impoverished choice, as post-Bush American foreign and domestic policy so amply demonstrates. Sure, there are occasionally mild reforms to be had, but fundamental change is no longer – if it was ever – possible through electoral politics given the degree to which it has become little more than the bureaucratic, administrative / enforcement arm of corporate oligarchy.

  10. Mike Mike 27 September 2011

    Stop voting for the the same party and expecting a different outcome. Political parties, like businesses, behave better when they think that there is a chance that they could lose your vote.

  11. jeff b jeff b 27 September 2011

    Our article, and its accompanying comments, is very pathetic and apologetic at best, and ahistorical and simplistic at worse. You argue that “We ought to work together with decision makers. We must take part on topics that matter. We have to make our recommendations and analysis to be heard beyond our circle of associates”. Firstly, you fail to appreciate that not everyone is interested in the political and economic affairs of the country. That not everyone has the necessary skills to engage in public affairs or decision making. Most importantly, people dont have time for politics, they have better things to do. This is exactly what representative (or parliamentary) democracy is for – it allows ordinary citizens to leave political matters to representatives (politicains) of their own choice, so that they can focus their energies elsewhere. So instead of suggesting change of the political system (i.e. the current representative democracy), you naively suggest change of mindset. Again you argue that our people are needy and dependent on government! But what is the government for? FYI government is meant to serve its people, not the other way round. Yes people MUST look to government for schools, healthcare, roads etc. After all, that’s what government is for. As much as citizens have responsibilities, so does the government, and its main responsibility is to provide these essential services to the people. That’s why we pay taxes!

  12. Morena Morena 27 September 2011

    @ Jeff b, so you really had to visit all of your adult self on this young person and in the process miss the point completely, the point is (which is a wise one I might add), as citizens we need be vigilant about how public power is exercised and actively assert our rights against the abuse of that power. In essence, we must simply exercise and assert our citizenship. I did not understand the writer to be prescriptive in any way.

  13. Lenny Appadoo Lenny Appadoo 27 September 2011

    Nice sentiments Amukelani, but I think your government is doing its damndest to make a mockery of the title of your article…

  14. Amukelani Amukelani 28 September 2011

    @ Jeff b, ‘people dont have time for politics, they have better things to do’ may I ask what better things to do? Are one of those who drive a Mercedes Benz around the block, see a group of hungry children and say somebody will do something about it?

    You say we fail to appreciate that not everyone is interested in the political and economic affairs of the country. What then are you interestered in? Politics run our lives, if they make a law that affects the way you run your business and you decide that you not going to take it consideration how then are you going to operate.

    You argue that this system ‘allows ordinary citizens to leave political matters to representatives (politicains) of their own choice,so that they can focus their energies elsewhere’.That’s why we pay taxes. I guess you also implying that it is will be okay if shareholders oppointed CEO’s to run they companies and then they can go on holiday and check on the business 5 years later and everything will still be fine and running smoothly. If not they can just fire the CEO, hire another one and go on holiday again. Holding the CEO accontable plays an important role in the success of the business. I guess that is why you are busy, hence you cant participate in politics. You keep your eyes on the ball and forget to observe if the referee is fair?

  15. jeff b jeff b 28 September 2011

    People have businesses to run, have work to go to, have school to go to, have church to go to, etc at the end of the day, they have little time or energy to actively engage in policy making or the political affairs of the country. This is the essence of representative democracy – political power rest with the elected few. We can make our recommendations to the parliaments, but at the end of the it is the elected few who have the last say. Take for example the public outcry against the proposed e-tolling system in Gauteng. We, ordinary citizens have made it clear that we do not want it, but did the law-makers listen? We are not as ignorant as you suggest. People will not take to the street and burn tyres out of the blue. In fact, in most case this approach is only a last resort. People are often left with no choice but to take to the street when their demands are not met. Even the ANC was forced to take up arms when its peaceful non-violent approach was taken as a weakness. History shows that violence is the only language politicians understand. So when people take to the streets, it is a their way of exercising their citizenship. It is another way of holding office bearers accountable.

    P.S. i do not drive a Merc, i can only wish. Im one of those hungry children you talking about

  16. andre gadfly andre gadfly 28 September 2011

    Yet the on Wednesday 28 September the Pretoria News has this on the front page: Info bill: ANC to go it alone, Deon de Lange, Other parties peeved at being left out. “The ANC has been accused of abusing parliamentary procedure after announcing it would embark on its own campaign of ‘public meetings’ to solicit views on the controversial ‘Protection of State Information Bill’.
    Mondli Makhanya, Chairman of the SA National Editors’ Forum found it ‘perturbing’. “We were hoping that further consultations on the bill – as announced by the ANC last week – would be a proper consultation process run by Parliament. There is a reason we have a Parliament.”
    This is more or less par for the course in Africa!

  17. Jack Sparrow Jack Sparrow 29 September 2011

    In an ideal world jeffb would have a point but as this Thought and his critics show, politics is everything in SA. Without the correct “politics” you are condemned to being a bit player, always struggling to even stay in the same place. Become politically connected however and life is a gravy train; literally. Problem is, too many people want a seat and will cheat, lie and steal to get one. Once you have one, it’s not secure so you must start paying off your backers and accumulating as much personal wealth as possible.

    Welcome to Azania.

  18. Morena Morena 29 September 2011

    Opposition to the “Secrecy Bill” and its momentary removal from possible enactment provides a clear example of the effect of active citizenry (not sedition). Systems of governance are not automated nor self-correcting, hence electoral accountability. The governing authority is kept in check by the laws of the country, vibrant opposition politics, independent institutions, civil society and to some extant geo-politics. All of these, does not countenance electoral cheats and abuse of power nor does it guarantee the opposite, hence the need for continuous vigilance in preference for passive, non-committal, self-defeatist approach.

  19. Joe Joe 6 November 2011

    With the Capitalist taking over worldwide and leading the world, it is and will be very dificult for African to make themself heard. The case with Kaddhafi who was killed like a dog just because I knew a lot..
    African must learn, try to understand the base line of there democracy and it’s only then we can win.. As long as, leaders are selected from out side (West-world), vote or not vote…they will make sure that their interest and purpose be reached…

  20. Linwood Rykard Linwood Rykard 21 April 2012

    Thanks for the wonderful article, I was researching for details like this, going to check out the other posts.

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