Advocate Mamiki Shai, Deputy Public Protector
I wish to three important subjects, which I regard as the basis for active citizenship: wise democratic processes; collective intelligence; and co-citizenship.
Wise democratic processes have been described as those which utilize social diversity to ‘deepen shared understanding and produce outcomes of long-term benefit to the whole community or society.’ The Centre for Wise Democracy suggests that public participation can either ‘enhance or degrade the collective intelligence and wisdom involved in democratic processes such as making collective decisions, solving social problems, and creating shared visions.’
The Office of the Public Protector (OPP) and other Chapter Nine institutions serve to strengthen South Africa’s constitutional democracy, and ensure a system of good governance devoted to the rule of law, fair dealing, accountability and transparency, and an effective public administration. A democratic government must operate within the law, promote the rights and liberties of citizens, and encourage public participation. The OPP specifically works to ensure good governance and democratic principles in the public administration.
Citizens who identify maladministration, abuse of power and mismanagement in government can communicate these to the OPP, which investigates and takes remedial action.
The OPP’s constitutional mandate also includes community outreach, although we encounter real challenges related to public participation and active citizenship. We conduct workshops, public hearings, public education and advocacy, and reach out to remote areas through mobile clinics, from almost-forgotten rural border areas, to small settlements, townships and the suburbs.
However, it is painful to observe that in our experience, it doesn’t matter how one approaches communities, or how many pamphlets are distributed, if these do not bring answers to immediate concerns. A hungry and thirsty person needs food and clean water, then you can discuss shelter, education and health services, then active citizenship and democratic participation. Then he will listen and participate. Communities desperately need an adequate standard of living and guarantees of socio-economic rights. One must ask, ‘What is the value of rights and liberties if you can’t access them?’
It is a challenge to institutions such as ours to see uprisings over service delivery, when mechanisms exist to allow citizens to make inputs, participate and reform government. The public may not believe they can influence decision-making, may lack confidence in the responsiveness of government, or may not be well-informed about rights, responsibilities and active citizenship.
I suggest that we need to re-craft our participatory democratic processes, inspired by the theory of ‘collective intelligence.’
We need responsible transformational agencies in communities, to teach people to actively participate, even on a hungry stomach. We need to inspire South Africans to share common concerns, even when we are not directly affected. This is co-citizenship.
At a conference in 2003, I became aware of institutions that provide citizenship education to adults, to develop knowledge, understand public life and inspire critical independent thinking. I would like to share the following principles of public participation developed by the Centre for Wise Democracy: ‘include all relevant perspectives; empower the people’s engagement; invoke multiple forms of knowing; ensure high quality dialogue; establish ongoing participatory processes; use positions and proposals as grist; and, help people feel fully heard.’
Lastly, I appeal that we all take part in understanding constitutional democracy and its principles, learn and live the habit of transforming others when we are advantaged and empowered – especially with information and education – and encourage active public participation among our fellow citizens.
Advocate Mamiki Shai is Deputy Public Protector of South Africa.