OUR Constitution asserts that South Africa is a representative and participatory democracy. Accordingly, people have the right to participate in the legislative/policy development processes.
The underlying notion is that all citizens, including the weak, the disorganized arid the powerful, should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives. The dictum that people of high intellect, lawyers and politicians are the only ones who are fit to debate over constitutional issues is once again being challenged in KwaZulu-Natal.
The public is being afforded an opportunity to comment on the draft constitution during public hearings scheduled for this month. The provinces have legislative competence (the powers to pass laws) on matters listed in Schedules 4 and 5 of the national constitution, or on other matter expressly provided for under Section 104.
In addition to this, Sections 142 and 143 give the province the power to design its own constitution.
No doubt the new provincial constitution, if approved by the Constitutional Court, does have the potential to reshape and redefine the political landscape of the province. For now it seems the focus is on two issues: the recognition of King Goodwill Zwelithini as the monarch of the province; and, secondly, the draft constitution is seeking to extend the current provincial cabinet. These two issues are very important but in reality there at” other equally weighty matters in the draft constitution.
Platforms such as public hearings are an indication of the government’s commitment to participatory democracy and good governance.
However, having said that, it is always good to learn from previous experiences. Previously it has been observed that the potential inability of citizens to participate is, among other things, linked to time, venue, communication, transport and education. Most of the time, the government’s resources fail to ensure that most people participate in the hearings. This immediately brings to the fore, the possible intervention by actors outside the government – that is, the media and organised civil society.
The government will always need partners, and arguably the media and the civil society are ideal partners. Few will question the influence of the two in our political lives; both have profoundly influenced the shape and nature of our body politic. Building partnership between the media, civil society and the provincial government can do much in strengthening outreach and public education around the draft constitution (and other policy processes), particularly where resources are limited.
The constitutional dialogue organised by civil society in partnership with The Mercury today is an attempt, at least between the media and civil society, to develop that partnership.
- A workshop on the draft constitution, co-sponsored by the Centre for Public Participation, Democracy Development Programme, The Mercury and the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, will be held in Durban today.
- D Nhlanhla Mtaka is the Idasa Co-ordinator in KwaZulu-Natal and the spokesman for Civil Society Initiative on KwaZulu-Natal Constitution.