Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Participate or shut the hell up - a rant

AMY: When a third candidate get elected, it's going to be by unlikely voters.

JOSH: And why is that good? Why are we eager...Why are we encouraging a group of people who are so howl-at-the-moon, lazy-ass stupid that they can't bring themselves to raise their hands? Why is it important that they be brought into the process?
(WW - again)
It's been a week of people bitching about the government in my world. Everywhere I turn, more bitching and moaning about every single thing. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with the fact that the media focus on what is wrong - and what sells papers. I've studied media economics, same as the next guy. It's the content of the bitching I have a problem with.

Every time I hear people complaining that the government isn't doing anything about this and isn't giving enough of that and isn't paying attention to the other - in that plaintive voice loaded with the Pretoria-will-provide recipient mentality, my blood boils. And I'm not talking about the people demanding houses - they, in fact, are doing exactly what they should be doing and asking for that to which they're entitled. It's the broad, vague, "the government should be making things work the way I want them to and giving me everything I feel like and doing all the stuff I vaguely at some level think should be done by a government although I couldn't be bothered to think about what that is and the fact that I'll have to contribute to paying for it" that drives me up the wall. My favourite, my absolute favourite is AIDS treatment and the massive, huge ranting and raving that the TAC had to take action and take a stand before the government would roll out treatment.

Welcome to participatory democracy, dumb-ass - that's how it's meant to work!

Civil society organisations and individuals are SUPPOSED to hold government accountable through the legal structures put in place exactly for that purpose. In South Africa, in fact, we even go a step further - the ordinary people on the ground have the right to DECIDE how local government spends their money. You - ordinary person - you can go out and choose what gets done and what doesn't. The SA government system is so riddled with accountability to make sure that the government does what the people think is in the interests of the people (bottom-up, even), that it would be impressive that anything ever got done if the system wasn't so beautifully designed as to make it streamlined enough to be perfectly feasible.

It is shatteringly amazing to me firstly that South Africans STILL can't make their government system work for them and secondly that they then sit back and bitch and moan and are surprised that things don't work perfectly.

This rant is about the fact that the beauty, the exquisite marvel of constitutional democracy is the creation of an exceptional framework of laws and rules and guidelines that make it possible for ordinary people to be part of making the system work and directing it but that it only works if the ordinary people make the system work. Checks and balances are not things that happen between two or three high-and-mighty groups far away.

But we're like people who bitch about poor service at their favourite local restaurant and still leave a big tip, smile and go back every day. What the hell did you expect? That some mythical angelic creature would sweep down from the heavens and wave a wand and the service would get better? That the gods of good service would rescue you?

There is no 'They'. Participatory democracy means that every person has the right to demand the things they're promised in the constitution. It means that every citizen has the right to hold the traffic department and the Home Affairs department and the local municipality to the Batho Pele principles they've committed to. It means that every woman has the right to demand respect and fair treatment when she goes to a police station. It also means that every person has to demand that for themselves and anyone else.

Wonderful policies and frameworks are in place to ensure that everyone can benefit from our democracy. We start from probably one of the most perfect developmental-state frameworks in the world. Every failure to deliver is a failure that happened because someone didn't bother to use that framework and hold the government accountable. I'm siek en sat of people bitching about service. It's a participatory democracy. If you can't be bothered to participate in building it and making it better, stop being so damned surprised when it doesn't provide all the wonderful things you expect.

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