International Observatory on Participatory Democracy

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Democracy, government & public participation in South Africa

When people vote for direct representatives or political parties, in elections (for government and any other institutions) they are voting for these representatives or parties to make laws and policies on their behalf and to ensure that these are carried out. This is one of the most important principles of democracy. The Constitution sets out the right to vote, to participate in political parties and to stand in elections, in Section 19.

Democracy also means that the people who have been elected are accountable in various ways to the people who voted for them. Citizens have a role to play in participating in government and governance processes on an ongoing basis to ensure that the people they vote for carry out their duties and obligations. They have a constitutional right to be involved in these processes in all spheres of government: national, provincial and local. In order to participate effectively in the decision-making and implementation processes you need to know:

•             The systems and structures of all spheres of government (and key public entities)

•             How laws and policies are made in all spheres of government

•             What the best opportunities are for public participation in all spheres of government

•             Different methods of participating

•             The rights of citizens

•             The obstacles and challenges to effective participation in decision-making and implementation processes

•             How to strategize collectively to highlight and address the needs of especially poor and vulnerable communities and individuals

This chapter looks at democracy and at public participation in a democracy.

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