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Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND
Picture: EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND

“A constituency system will hold politicians more directly accountable to the voters and will better ensure that election promises are kept for fear of being voted out,” former President Kgalema Motlanthe said in May 2015.

“The weakness of the current system is that there is not sufficient representivity, and not sufficient accountability because of the party system and the way it is applied” key constitutional negotiator Roelf Meyer said in August 2020.

“The way MPs behave, you can see that their performance is geared towards pleasing party bosses more than doing things that would benefit the public as a whole” Prof Mcebisi Ndletyana said in August 2020.

“We should be able to vote for the person in our own area we want to represent us in parliament, so we can hold them accountable for the electoral promises they make” anti-apartheid activist Dr Mamphela Ramphele in said February 2013.

“The introduction of a constituency element into the electoral system would ensure MPs were directly accountable to the electorate” DA federal council chair James Selfe said in March 2013.

It is in the context of these voices, alongside those of Nelson Mandela, Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert and Valli Moosa, that we ought to consider the historic ruling by the Constitutional Court on June 11 2020 in the matter of New Nation Movement NPC and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others.

In this seminal judgment the country’s apex court ruled that our electoral system is unconstitutional insofar as it requires citizens to be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures only through membership of political parties. This infringes fundamental rights to freedom of association and the right to stand for public office and keeps intact the dominance of political parties that has weakened our democracy with each passing decade.

Political quagmire

With less than 60 days until the Constitutional Court-ordered deadline of June 11 2022, the process to amend our electoral system is a shambles. After sitting on its hands for more than a year and a half, parliament is now in a quagmire as the court deadline looms; not only has it produced an unfair and unlawful new bill, but the public participation process followed on this bill is also flawed, for at least three reasons.

First, parliament failed to properly educate the public on the amendment bill and the purpose of the public participation process; second, parliament’s home affairs committee failed to give adequate notice to the public before the hearings; and third, parliament acted unreasonably in its duty to facilitate public participation. 

Considering this, we have now reached a critical juncture in what is arguably the single most important piece of legislation before parliament since the dawn of democracy. The situation requires an urgent rescue plan from parliament to avoid being in contempt of court and to avoid a legal challenge.  

A grouping of civil society organisations have therefore written a legal letter to parliament requesting that within 14 days we are advised on how it intends to remedy the flawed public participation process in respect of the Electoral Amendment Bill. In our letter, we also request an update on the status of the condonation application to the Constitutional Court as resolved by parliament, and how this will affect the process, given that there are less than two months to the deadline set by the Constitutional Court.  

Snail’s pace

Despite the gravitas of the matter, parliament has moved at a snail’s pace over the past 22 months, only beginning the rushed public participation process last month. Therefore, we need to get answers from parliament itself as to how it intends fixing the mess it has created. It is vital that any amendments to the Electoral Act are in the spirit of the Constitutional Court judgment and properly address the failings of the current electoral system. 

Our central goal is to actively work towards an SA that is no longer at the mercy of a broken system of party politics. In aid of this goal we strongly advocate for full electoral reform, encompassing a constituency-based system whereby we the people can directly choose our leaders instead of political parties imposing their politicians on us. 

This has been the advice of every government-appointed commission over the past 25 years — including the voices of Mandela, Slabbert, Motlanthe and the most recent ministerial advisory committee chaired by Moosa. Such a system strengthens accountability, brings decision-making closer to the people and gives citizens a greater say in electing the best, fit-for-purpose individuals represent us in government.

Only the best

We want the best of the best for our government — people who work hard, know how to get things done, and want to see SA thrive. And we can do this only through a new electoral system.

This matter is about leaving a legacy for generations to come. Our plea is for politicians to do what is right and rise above party politics and self-interest and fulfil their true mandate as proclaimed at the Congress of the People in 1955, that “the people shall govern”.

Princess Chantal Revell (applicant, New Nation Movement)
One South Africa Movement, Independent Candidate Association, African School Of Governance and Policy Studies, Outa, Devoted Citizens Movement, Righteous Remnant Rulers, Ngwathe Residents Association, Knysna Independent Movement, Cederberg Eerste, The Independents

JOIN THE DISCUSSION: Send us an email with your comments to letters@businesslive.co.za. Letters of more than 300 words will be edited for length. Anonymous correspondence will not be published. Writers should include a daytime telephone number.​

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