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Democracy is a way of governing a country. The most common definition of democracy is ‘rule by the people’. Citizens are given an opportunity to choose public representatives to represent them in government. They do this in regular, free and fair elections. The public representatives run government on our behalf. They use our tax money to ensure that services are delivered.

However, the democratic practice of citizens doesn’t end here. Democracy also means that the people who have been elected are accountable in various ways to the people who voted for them. They have to act and deliver on the promises they made during elections, and should ensure the participation of local communities in setting future plans and priorities.

All public representatives and officials have to be open (transparent) and accountable in their actions and decisions.

When we vote we give the government a mandate to pass and enforce laws on our behalf. In making laws the government has to follow the constitution, and it uses the courts as well as the police to enforce the laws.

If the government becomes unpopular or doesn’t do what it promised to do then people can vote for another party in the next election and vote the present

government out of power. This is essentially how democracy works and why it can be an effective system of government.

The Constitution sets out the principles for how the public service should operate in section 195:

  • A high standard of professional ethics must be promoted and maintained.
  • Efficient, economic and effective use of resources must be promoted
  • Public administration must be development-oriented
  • Services must be provided impartially, fairly, equitably and without bias
  • People’s needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making
  • Public administration must be accountable
  • Transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information
  • Good human-resource management and career-development practices, to maximise human potential, must be cultivated
  • Public administration must be broadly representative of the South African people, with employment and personnel management practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness, and the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve broad representation