Let's now ensure ANC abides by its manifesto to realise new dawn

SA's newly-elected members of parliament were sworn into office in Cape Town yesterday. The members were sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. /RODGER BOSCH /AFP
SA's newly-elected members of parliament were sworn into office in Cape Town yesterday. The members were sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. /RODGER BOSCH /AFP

With the 400 nominated MPs sworn in and speaker, deputy speaker and president of the Republic elected, SA's sixth parliament is ready to proceed with its work.

Parliament suspended activities for weeks to allow members of the fifth parliament to desert the corridors of the House to traverse the narrow, gravel paths and streets of communities with the aim of convincing them to vote for their parties.

For most ordinary people, that would have been the first time they had spotted these figures who have become guests in their homes through television broadcasts of House proceedings.

And it will in all probability have been the last time they see these politicians on their door steps until the next time they need to canvass for electoral support. Cape Town will now be the focal point of representative politics for the next five years.

This is the nature of our political system. Those who represent the people are often inaccessible to them.

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In fact, it has become the norm for protesters and those who vowed not to vote to complain that politicians only care about them during the campaign period.

The issue here is the weak link between MPs and the communities they are supposed to represent. And from this arises a sense of despondency about being able to hold MPs to account.

MPs take their mandate from their political parties given that it is internal party processes that confer on them the privilege of service in the legislature.

It is the parties' performance at the ballot that ultimately decides whether they get into the National Assembly, but it's the internal jostling to get onto the party list that requires more of their energy and attention.

But individual citizens and communities should realise that there are opportunities between elections to keep political parties and parliamentary representatives engaged.

Political parties held huge rallies to launch their manifestos. These are the published declarations of their intentions should they form government.

It is my experience that most people don't care to read manifestos. It is understandable because they tend to be long and tedious to get through.

However, it is a mistake for citizens to disregard and discard these documents. Now that the ANC has been confirmed as the party that will govern for the next five years, their election manifesto becomes all the more important for active citizenship.

It can be an important tool for advocacy and engagement with departmental office bearers as well as legislatures at the provincial and national levels.

The promises made span health, education, safety, social welfare, the economy and governance.

Rather than waiting for the next elections - which would be the local government elections - civil society actors could be proactive and use the manifesto to develop a programme of engagement with their representatives.

Manifestos could be the basis for active monitoring and evaluation of the governing party in its activities and decision-making processes on policy and law.

Hopefully, those that elected the ANC are interested in their programme.

Moreover, all citizens, even supporters of the opposition, should be interested in ensuring that the opposition parties hold the ANC to account on its own commitments.

Active citizens should recognise the value of manifestos as tools for accountability in the context of a political system where elected representatives feel they can depart from their stated aims and intentions for expediency.

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