Councillors have a responsibility to listen to the concerns of communities
I remember when people used to die during protests. I remember the stones. I remember the police vans. I remember the pain and frustration. I remember going to the funerals and singing the songs.
We still sing some of those songs today. They help us remember those we have lost. Because of them, we can still see the faces of those who used to march arm in arm with us, but who will never march again.
The marches we went on; the songs we sang; the struggle we fought; the lives we lost. They are the history that lives and breathes with this democracy. And because of that, those who died in the struggle still live with us. And they always will. Though a life that is taken cannot be returned, those who remain are sometimes fortunate to live with the rewards that the surrendered life has made – it is called a sacrifice.
Our comrades and friends who gave their lives to destroy Apartheid live with us. Their lives helped give us this democracy. We live with the rewards of their sacrifice. And they died so that we could have a democratic system of government. And in that democratic system of government, we emphasised maximum interaction between people and government.
Government would no longer be removed from people. It would work with them; be a part of them; be them. This was the motivation behind the new local government framework that was informed by our Constitution and the layers of democracy it enjoined our country to practise.
In this system, people can and are heard. At the municipal level, they speak to their representatives who are Councillors. They can do this directly or at Ward Committees. These Councillors represent these matters to Councils and, in Cape Town, Subcouncils as well. They provide constant input into our cycles.
Of course, priorities and policy directions are determined by the government of the day. But our democracy ensures that the government is not deaf to those who did not vote for it.
Through these structures, through the democratic space, government listens and engages.
The role of Councillors in this process is critical. They communicate between the government and the people. They are our living democracy at work. But they need to do their work as well, for which they are well paid.
They need to make sure that this democracy all ties together. When there are failures in our system, we need to ask whether the problem is one of design or of individuals.
We know that we have a democratic framework in place. We have political differences in this framework, which is right and good. But because it is a democratic framework, people don’t have to die because of political differences.
There are protests going on in Cape Town at the moment. They have caused massive damage and have made people across this city feel threatened and vulnerable. And people have died.
There is mounting evidence that suggests that these protests are politically driven. There are the statements of political parties that they would make this province ‘ungovernable’ and that they will ‘reclaim’ this province. There are those who claim that these protests are the spontaneous expression of legitimate concerns.
What remains are the lives in the balance. What is left are the consequences which, as is too often the case, the poor are left to suffer.
Throughout this, I ask: Where are the democratic representatives of these places that feel that they are not heard? What are they doing as paid public servants?
Where have their representations been to Subcouncils and Council? What have they done to work with their communities to prevent violent protests? What have they done to tell our people that if they want more services, they must engage democratically? What have they done to tell our people that in this democracy, they must engage within a legal framework? What have they done to tell our people that politics must not be used to play with people’s lives?
Our democracy has a government. But it has democratic representation. Those who accept the responsibility of public and democratic leadership, and who are paid for it, must live that responsibility. That is the point of their jobs and of their service.
We will not engage with ‘youth’ structures that have no standing in terms of democratic representation. They have no mandate. We will continue to engage with people directly. They want it and need it. I know from the last time I was in Khayelitsha last week, where people wanted to talk and tell this government what they needed.
We sang some of those songs that we sang many years ago. But we must also engage with the democratically-elected leadership of these communities too. They are mandated to represent their communities’ interests and petition for justifiable change where necessary. That is the democratic relationship of local government.
I have told the ANC leadership in Council, through the ANC Whip, Cllr Xolani Sotashe, that we will engage with the Councillors from the affected protest areas. I have made the invitation. Perhaps now, we can start to get the democratic system that will make people heard, even if those Councillors find it difficult to engage with our government.
We must not think of politics here. We must think of the people we all serve. During the struggle, people died. They ultimately died so that we could live in a diverse, democratic country with dignity.
They died so that, with a democratic structure, others would have to be heard.
We remember those who have lost their lives in these protest actions.
We remember Sandile Hoko, 57 years old.
We remember Nhlanhla Ngalo, 20 months old.
We remember David Sass, 52 years old.
We remember Siyaxolela Bongco, 30 years old.
We extend our condolences to their families.
Let their names and their lives become a part of the living history of Cape Town. And let us remember that there are real and tragic consequences here. Let everyone know that violent protests come at the ultimate price for some. And let us put an end to it.
This article by Patricia de Lille first appeared in Cape Town This Week, the weekly online newsletter of the Mayor of Cape Town.