President Obama’s supporters are watching with dismay as his ratings decline from 65% last year, to below 50% to date, and on some issues 42%. His State of the Union address on the 27th January 2010 is described by the Economist, a paper that endorsed his presidency, as “a waste of a podium”. A political analyst on CNN Fareed Zakariah’s programme uttered a remark all politicians should heed: “Obama mobilized the nation to get himself elected; Obama has yet to mobilize the nation to help him govern.”
These sage words capture the essence of democracy. It is only through partnerships, conversations and compacts with the electorate that governments can govern well.
Representative democracy is deeply flawed when governments assume that they speak on behalf of the masses all the time. In a true democracy mechanisms need to be found to ensure that government communicates with the public all the time.
The ANC government clearly needs the help of the many experts, visionary public officials, specialized organizations and NGOs to help it tackle the myriad of problems that plague South African society. Politicians undertake expensive jamborees to China, India, Europe and America to learn from them while many of the experts and solutions are on our doorstep.
The Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust, of which I am Executive Director, rewards innovations in public service delivery. Every year we submit some of our award-winning projects to the United Nations and Dubai for their Public Service Excellence Awards and every year South Africa wins. These range from housing, sanitation and waste management, healthcare, environment and climate change to the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Our database includes projects that have found solutions to the maths, science and technology deficits in the country. Projects that excel in skills training to boost the numbers in nursing and rural doctors exist. A myriad of housing settlements that have explored building social capital in communities by including residents in the planning and design of housing abounds. Sanitation models of excellence exist all over the place, in spite of the thousands of protests around the inadequate provision of sanitation services. The problem is – government relies far too much on foreign donors and non-government organizations to pay for initiatives that should come from government, given the dearth of revenue generation at the local level.
Impumelelo has been in existence for ten years now and it has an extensive database of best practice that it would gladly share with government. Last year I approached the secretariat and the Head of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service requesting that Impumelelo make submissions and presentations to it in order to assist government with forging partnerships with the right organizations and expertise to help it solve the problems about which so many service delivery protests are about. The Portfolio secretariat responded with enthusiasm, but suddenly the invitation fell off the table and after many inquiries, we are still waiting. There is an unwillingness to learn and lots of money are wasted on reinventing the wheel.
To come back to Obama, leaders fail when they take their eye off the ball. South Africa is awash with scandals at the moment. The Minister of Communication, Siphiwe Nyanda, is brazenly involved in huge conflicts of interest in businesses related to his portfolio, as reported in the recent Mail and Guardian; Siyabonga Cwele, the Minister of State Security’s wife, is allegedly involved in a drug ring; and our President Zuma is unashamedly redistributing his sperm equally amongst the nation, giving substance to Marat De Sade’s alleged comment: “what is a revolution without copulation” and Dire Straits’ – “money for nothing and chicks for free.”
Who governs when all these intrigues are taking place? Why do we South Africans put up with this? Unlike us, Americans are not loyal to any government no matter whether they voted for them overwhelmingly or not. If the Democratic government does not serve their interests, Americans vote resoundingly with their feet as they demonstrated in Massachusetts, a seat held by Ted Kennedy for forty years.
As one of my loyal ANC friends said yesterday: I now draw a line. I work hard so that these people can steal millions. Enough is enough!