I APPRECIATE Pieter-Dirk Uys's article, "Democracy is demanding (September 23). Indeed it is demanding to a point that we should now be very proactive and imaginative as I don't think it could work without a large modification in its design
As Muna Lakhani, of Earthlife Africa, says: "It would be fair to say that our consultative and participatory democracy has been reduced to being informed of decisions that have been made, regardless of what inputs civil society may have taken the trouble to make in South Africa."
Meanwhile, Glenn Ashton (a writer and researcher working in civil society), mentions: "If we wish to gain oversight of public financial information we must apply through the arcane Public Access to Information Act processes. In many cases applications are either refused or strung out for so long that they simply give up in frustration.
"Public participation processes could, and should, serve as a counterweight to powerful interest groups, restoring the equilibrium between representative political power and citizen rights."
Do we believe that South African civil society can pursue their civil and legal rights to public participation in active self-governance? Then why are the very controversial third coal plant, nuclear fleet, toll roads, fracking and the Port Elizabeth refinery considered if "local affected peoples who have been consulted" have disagreed with these developments?
Reading the National Development Plan (NDP), one will quickly understand that the whole game seems to be cooked from the top for the next 20 years. It further entrenches neo-liberal (pro-business) concepts in SA life and even removes the people's constitutional right of food sovereignty.
This jumble will not end unless the system which supports it changes. The only solution for a real people's participation system is, I believe, a local economy and development that respond to people's needs instead to large interests' requirements – a bottom-up process that involves the majority in a simple way, without the inter phase of sophisticated consultants.
But that is a pipe dream while the party in power keeps pretending to work for the people. It will only happen when it releases its power to the people and just supports their decisions (as it is written in the constitution).
In the mean time the government will continue, as Jeff Rudin, of the Alternative Information Development Centre, says about the NDP as symbolic policies to "reassure the anxious that pressing problems and needs have been recognised, and that the leaders have systematic plans for achieving everything that must be done". That is governing by deception.
For how many more years shall we allow ourselves to be fooled?
Will the NMB vision process be a real participative process that involves relevant civil society representatives to design and debate the document? Or will it be, as Muna mentions, the rubber-stamping of a pre-cooked document?
Tim Hewitt-Coleman raised the critical issue of the "entrenched dysfunctional relationship between the public, private and academic sectors" ("The three-headed city monster", September 20). He adds, "No vision emerges from this standoff, no leadership" and the "academic silo comes under increasing pressure to focus not on the SA urban crisis but rather on 'purer' academic pursuits".
He summarises by saying "great ideas are shelved, big visions are parked and energy diverted".
How can we, in this dysfunctional context wherein potential stakeholders are considered as commodities, no adequate cooperation forum exists and leaders are wanted, be able to define an all-inclusive and ground breaking vision for the municipality? How can this vision process be the responsibility of all instead of the business of a few?
How could this vision be turned to be something other than the NDP document that represents just the opinion of a few stuck in the dangerous old paradigm? Can a local economy principle for example (that creates employment and wealth by responding to local needs) be discussed during this vision process?
Can't we therefore consider selecting an inclusive team from the many local activists who work in the socio, economic and environment sectors?
Can we mandate that team to draft a discussion document, which ought to be debated at length? Ample time and resources should be allocated to this step as it is a critical one to mobilise, educate and reach community ownership of the process.
If the NMBM considers this process critical, it ought to put up adequate resources and pay attention to it.
Tim ended by saying: "It is up to us to develop new protocols and to have the courage as activists."
PL Lemercier, Port Elizabeth