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Public Participation

Public participation means that citizens should be able to interact with government on decisions that affect them. Democracy should not end with elections, government makes thousands of decisions that need input from the people. For example many organisations and individuals make representations to parliament in public hearings when new laws are discussed. At a local level, municipalities should consult people on housing developments and the use of public land.

Citizens have a right (and a duty) to have a say on how the government does its work. Citizens also pay taxes and have a right to know how this money is being spent. If people don’t participate, the government may make decisions without hearing the opinions of the people and as a result will not be transparent and accountable for their actions. This can lead to the abuse of powers. The Constitution says all spheres of government (national, provincial and local) have to make it easy for people to participate in government. Section 118 (1)(a)(b)(i) and (ii) of the Constitution deals with public access to, and involvement in provincial legislatures, and Chapter 4 of The Local government Municipal Systems Act is dedicated to community participation.

So we can see that public participation is an important part of democracy – and in particular for South Africa – because it makes the government:

  • Open and accountable for its actions
  • Act on its promises (usually made in elections) such as political party manifestos, policy and budget speeches of ministers, and the annual State of the Nation Address (by the president)

If you want to participate effectively you need to be properly informed which means:

  • Knowing what is happening in your community and what the important issues are
  • Knowing what is happening in your broader society
  • Knowing what your legal rights are and where decisions will be made