Partisan ward committees don’t work
Chamda said citizens were still very entrenched in partisan groupings when participating in statutory structures like ward committees. “They are still very driven by party political affiliations. But, I sense there is a growing realisation that there are huge gains to be had if you can break out of those little partisan groupings.”
“And a perfect example would be this huge conference last weekend, called Defend Our Democracy. Over 120 civic organisations came together, rising completely above party political affiliations. We had people from all parties in that conference- while you had Rev Frank Chikane, you also had Leon Wessels.
“It will take South Africa some time to get its party political system to fix the country. In the meantime, civil society has realised that they need to start working together to try and find solutions and develop a healthy pressure system on government – to try and speak openly about some of the problems we have,” he said.
So how will this project help?
“Firstly, we want to get the idea across that we have an accountability crisis in South Africa. Nothing highlights it more than the outcomes from the Zondo Commission. At every point, there is a breakdown of accountability, which opened the door for state capture.
“That accountability crisis exists not just in government but throughout society. We have to build a culture of accountability in every corner of society. You can’t ask for accountability from somebody if you can’t be held accountable yourself for the areas over which you have influence.”
This project will run over three years. “It’s a short time – you can’t have a complete cultural shift, but at least we want to get the ball moving and get this community to understand what accountability means in terms of action, not theory. We have enough theory.
“Let’s take the example of a ward councillor – what do they do when they wake up to raise the level of accountability?
“Are you going to have more meetings? Are you bringing issues that are being kind of hidden and spoken about behind closed doors into the public domain? Are you going to be more engaging? Are you going to take feedback? Are you going to rise above political manoeuvring and look at the community’s interests?
“We must understand accountability quite quickly to put it into action.
“This meeting today is not a broad representation of the entire area. We’ll analyse the attendance, and then the PSAM team will reach out to civil society organisations and take this project to them. It is not going to happen if we leave it to political parties.
Tackling one issue at a time
“There are thousands of service delivery issues. But if you take one thing, and you analyse that, and you say that there’s a lack because of a lack of accountability, you have this problem, then the project goes and tackles that issue and puts heat on whoever is supposed to be accountable.
“And if that pressure leads to some corrective measure, then you can hold that up to the community and say, in this little instance, accountability has worked for you.
“Now, can we take on a few more issues? We will look at those small but important things that need to be fixed – it could be from one bad pothole to the problem of the slow funding that is coming for the upgrade to the sewage works?”
Participation from ward councillors
Two ANC ward councillors were welcomed at the first A4A meeting.
“This is not a policing project. If we have to apply pressure, sure, we will do that. But, it’s a project that says, ‘Come, let’s understand accountability and work together. If you’re willing to work with us, we will work with you – maybe we can fix a couple of things. And we’ll use our network to put pressure and call for accountability.
“We will scan this area to discover who the active, open-minded, progressive people are. We will reach out and pull them together into a progressive network for the area.
In Makhanda, civil society groupings – like the Makana Residents’ Association, the Makhanda Circle of Unity, Makana Revive, the Unemployed People’s Movement, the Grahamstown Business Forum and many others – have already taken huge amount of initiative. Yunus said that was “very positive”.
“We have to be brave, because what’s the alternative? Sit back and live in fear while the country falls apart?”