Lindiwe Mazibuko backs proposals around SA electoral reform

Former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko says there is room for South Africans to debate whether the current party political system holds individuals elected to office sufficiently accountable.

Mazibuko addressed the Cape Town Press Club on Tuesday evening as the keynote speaker at the Barry Streek memorial lecture in Newlands.

She touched on a range of topics, specifically her desire to aid the transition of aspirant leaders in civil society to public office through a new academy she has launched called the Apolitical Academy.

Mazibuko added her voice to the debate on whether the party political system, or a more direct system, where voters choose an individual to represent them, was preferable.

She said one of the main problems with the current party system was that most South Africans were at the mercy of a handful of delegates of a political party and "hope to goodness" they get a good president out of the deal.

"I don't think we recognise how close we came during the ANC's elective conference at Nasrec to tipping our democracy over the cliff," she said.

'Too much power in the hands of party bosses'

"I honestly think we came up on the right side after that congress. Like many South Africans, I am relieved that President (Cyril) Ramaphosa emerged as the leader after that conference."

The collective sigh of relief following the ANC's internal elections was evidence of South Africans' helplessness with the current system.

"What's going to happen when (Deputy President) David Mabuza decides he wants to be president?" she asked, expressing her misgivings about the former Mpumalanga premier.

"We are sleepwalking into a situation where we are just going to repeat the mistakes of the past because we constantly invest all the powers of the public sector into political parties and no one else."

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Mazibuko agreed with media personality Stephen Grootes who recently spoke of South Africa's weakening ethos of non-racialism and the sustained tolerance of criminal behaviour among politicians.

"I would add to this a political system that places far too much power in the hands of political party bosses," Mazibuko said.

A mixed system?

"The former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke pointed out many ways in which our parliamentary system invests the president who is elected by a party system with the powers of one who is directly elected."

Some of those powers include the authority to appoint ministers, leaders of government business, ambassadors, the chief justice, the judge president of the Land Claims Court, the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, the Auditor-General "and on and on".

She said no one loses sleep over the fact that the president is elected by 400 members of Parliament, themselves only elected by a handful of delegates at a conference.

There is thus a lot of room to look at a mixed system where some leaders are elected directly by the electorate.

"There are dangers of despairing on the subject of electoral reform, by accepting and resigning ourselves to the fact that the parliamentary turkeys are never going to vote for Christmas, that MPs are never going to choose a system that disempowers the very parties that put them there."

Mazibuko said it was the duty of active citizens to take an interest in the "dysfunctions of the system and the people it incentivises, and do everything necessary to change that system".

The ConCourt's role

"The truth is that the limits of party political power can and should be tested in the Constitutional Court, just as our electoral laws have and should be."

In addition, South Africa should nurture the next civil society leaders and support next-generation leaders regardless of political affiliation.

"The time for abdicating that responsibility and hoping political parties will simply sort themselves out, is now over."

When quizzed about what mechanisms could be used to rectify some of the issues, Mazibuko said the Constitutional Court could play the biggest role.

She suggested that, in cases where parliamentarians are being compelled to protect the party ahead of upholding their oaths of office, the Constitutional Court can compel Parliament to amend the Electoral Act so that it is in line with the Constitution.

Political parties should not be able to blackmail MPs with the threat of losing membership if it means violating their oaths, as if the oaths "aren't there anymore".

It was up to ordinary South Africans and civil society to lobby their MPs and the courts if they want change to how South Africa votes.

She once again asked South Africans to support civil society leaders to openly take up more public office positions.