The 2016 Local Government Elections are taking place next week. I see posters in our suburb proclaiming three candidates for my local ward. I know nothing about any one of them and they certainly know nothing about me.
All three political parties are making the same mistake. They tell me to vote for them. They assume that they know the problems that I and my fellow citizens in our suburb are facing. They have made no effort to get to know my concerns and they have not explained what they are going to do about them. All I get are breathless SMSs telling me to vote for one or other political party.
South African political parties seem not to care about engaging with and understanding their electorate. In spite of the millions they spend on their election campaigns, they seem unable to find advisers to help them with the basics of change management and stakeholder engagement. Their party leaders are more concerned about co-opting us to their ego conflicts in parliament rather than serving us.
In this age, with social media at their disposal, this is unforgiveable. I want to understand about how the municipal spatial development plan is going to affect my suburb. I have questions about crime, traffic, ambulance services, education and infrastructure maintenance. Then there are questions about electricity supply, water reticulation and sewage treatment. These and others are the questions that urban dwellers ask, and they deserve answers from those who pretend to govern them.
At the very least, I would have expected my three candidate ward councillors to host Town Hall meetings on social media. Where I, and others, can put these questions to them, and hear their answers. Social media can do this simply, quickly and cheaply. Moreover, there would be a record of their promises, which we can hold them to. I expect my candidate ward councillors to use social media to tell me who they are and what qualifies them for the job. I want them to demonstrate their understanding of the problems facing our ward, and put forward their plans. Then I would be in a position to decide whom to give my vote.
Young South Africans of every race, language and class are fed up with this old school style of running a country. They want to be heard and they want to be taken seriously. They see new and exciting alternatives to solving the problems of racism, poor education, corruption and the apartheid legacy. These are the young people of the ubiquitous mobile smart phone. They are connected, savvy and well informed. They don’t want to be given the solutions by old, out-of-touch veterans. They want to be part of creating their solutions.
On Wednesday, I will go to the polls. I will help to continue an inefficient and ineffective local government political system. I will vote for a candidate I do not know. The winner will have no interest in my concerns, save those of serving the needs and agendas of his or her political masters.