Address by UDM National Treasurer at the IEC/SA Council of Churches Joint Seminar re; The role of the church in entrenching electoral democracy and accountability at the Parktonian Hotel, Gauteng (3 September 2008)

Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the United Democratic Movement I would like to thank the IEC for affording us this opportunity to compare notes on the state of our country.

We are meeting here today, coming from different groups and denominations, to reflect on the progress and problems that we encounter as demanded by our convictions. Whilst we all look to a higher force for spiritual assistance to guide us, there are those people who have been selected to lead us here on Earth. I refer to government leaders, political leaders, community leaders, business leaders and so on. These leaders are the ones who are expected to provide or promote food security, security against crime and also shelter. It is therefore important that the religious groups of South Africa must constantly monitor these leaders and political parties on whether they are doing their work on behalf of the voters.

One thing we can never deny is the role played by religious leaders, which led to our emancipation in 1994. However, immediately after that watershed moment in our history, many of the political leaders in Government immediately shunned the religious leaders and disowned their role, under the pretext that they had now been elected democratically to lead the country.

Civil Society Institutions such as the South African Council of Churches and other religious groups invested a great deal in the ruling party during the Struggle era, and unfortunately from 1994 they have been systematically sidelined. Let alone the majority of citizens without arms, who brought a well-equipped Apartheid Government with its military arsenal to its knees. And yet it is only in the past few years – due to pressure from the poor – that we have seen civil society starting to say: This is not what we fought for.

Indeed, when leaders like Archbishop Tutu, pointed out that corruption was a threat, or that the gap between the rich and poor was widening, they were called names and vilified. Yet these were religious leaders who sacrificed much of their lives to oppose Apartheid and who played a major role in travelling the world to convince other nations of the evils of Apartheid.

In the 80s Archbishop Tutu called for an end to human “necklacing” and the masses heeded his call. His was the voice of sanity that was mostly needed at that point as black-on-black violence threatened the existence of our nation.

Here in Africa a nation will not survive if it does not stand on three pillars; namely: an elected government, religious groups and traditional leadership. What is needed is simply for the government of the day to accept that South Africa was not freed merely by one political party, but also because of pressure applied by civil society, especially the religious groups. That reality must be reflected in our policies. We must work in unity to ensure that our country prospers.

In this country of ours there have been many pieces of legislation enacted, which afterwards has led to some church leaders confronting the Government regarding the moral basis for these laws. The common refrain has been that Government has failed to consult before enacting certain laws. This is a complaint that is echoed by traditional leaders and ordinary citizens. It demonstrates to what extent the new Government after 1994 insulated itself from the other sectors of society.

The ANC Government has shunned stakeholders on the basis that the ANC has a mandate from the majority. Many laws were passed on controversial issues such as abortion. Indeed on numerous occasions Government has been dragged to the Constitutional Court and found wanting when it comes to consultation and considering the views of the broader public.

It was for these reasons, amongst others, in the past two year's State of the Nation debates in the Parliament, that UDM President, Bantu Holomisa, called for the holding of a National Convention. Such a Convention or Indaba would allow all role-players in society to discuss the burning issues facing the nation and to determine whether we are still heading in the right direction.

He proposed that the main objectives of such a Convention will be to look at: social cohesion, economic policies, poverty, crime, lack of service delivery as well as issues of racism, ethnicity and xenophobia.

As a nation we need to find consensus about the overall direction that our country is taking and establish the basic foundations upon which we are building our society; Governments may come and go but there are certain basic fundamentals we should agree on and adhered to irrespective of who is ruling.

We need to be honest and acknowledge that corruption has been eating away at our democratic institutions, like a cancer. Had it not been for the vigilance of civil society, the Media and opposition parties many scandals would not have been exposed and today we would not be talking of the Arms Deal, Oilgate, Travelgate, etc. Many of these scandals have implicated people at the highest levels of our institutions, people who were entrusted with improving the lives of all South Africans.

Criminals are also becoming heroes. Robbers, murderers and rapists in many communities are now becoming role models for our youth. We should not be surprised that such a culture will permeate throughout our society and even into legislatures. The basic idea of ethics, of right and wrong, of punishment for crime, is not being promoted. That is why we are faced with this massive crime wave. Putting pieces of Legislation in place would be a hollow exercise, especially on matters of the moral fibre of the nation, if we fail to involve the religious groups. Religious groups should be the watch-dogs of our fledging democracy.

Aside from these over-arching challenges that we need to tackle as a collective long-term effort, there are nevertheless in the short term some basic things that can be done; such as strengthening the capacity for preparing and holding democratic elections. The UDM welcomes the initiative of religious groups who wish to become involved in the logistical aspects of the electoral process. No democracy can ever claim that it has a surfeit of people who promote and monitor the electoral process.

We would however caution that we do not want to see a situation where politicians abuse religious groups to advance their partisan agendas, or vice versa. We must refrain from situations where certain religious groups are involved in election processes because of their association/affiliation to certain political parties – as is the case with SADTU.

As far as the logistics of electoral processes are concerned the greater involvement of religious groups can only be considered a crucial thing. The more people who are actively assisting with getting voters to register and vote, the better. And certainly we can do with more independent monitors and observers on ground level in the polling stations on Election Day. The opposition will readily admit that we need your help in this regard, since it is very difficult with our limited resources to have a decent presence at each and every single polling station to monitor the process and assist voters to exercise their democratic right to vote.

And of course after Election Day it is up to all members of civil society, including the religious groups, to enrich the democratic process by participating in the deliberations of Parliament where the representatives of the people are supposed to ensure that the Government delivers on its election promises and constitutional obligations. Religious groups can play a major role in holding the government accountable and educating their congregations along those lines.

I thank you.

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