A new nation was born yesterday as a group of South Africans prayed together in the main chamber of Parliament over “a new people’s bill that is by the people and for the people”, said Dr Michael Louis of One South Africa Movement.
It was a unique God moment — “something that Nelson Mandela would have loved to have seen” — he said of the gathering to mark the formal submission of the Direct Election Bill to the Speaker of Parliament earlier in the day.
The 20 people present were from different groupings (One South Africa Movement, Congress of the People, United Independent Movement, Move One Million Movement and New Africa Foundation) who were co-signatories to a press release about the Bill which describes it as “a new model of direct, accountable governance for South Africa” that “is about to change for good” the “manner in which we elect our leaders”.
They had come for a press conference in front of the parliamentary precinct which was off limits because of Covid-19 infection. But the press conference had to be cancelled because of a “hurricane-like” wind.
But then, against all expectations, the group was admitted to Parliament and to the very main chamber where the Direct Election Bill will be debated — and the occasion became a prayer time.
COPE leader, Mosiuoa Lekota first spoke about how Nelson Mandela would have enjoyed witnessing the celebration of a people’s bill, by the people for the people.
Then Louis shared how it was only God that could have ushered them in to the main parliamentary chamber at that time — not for a press conference but for prayer.
Thereafter a prayer was spoken over the Bill by Princess Chantal Revell, a member of the First Nation Movement and one of the applicants in the case which led to a groundbreaking decision earlier this year by the Constitutional Court which ordered Parliament to change SA’s electoral laws wiithin 24 months to allow for independent individuals to stand for election to Parliament.
Louis said it was a very moving time with a lot of tears and a sense that they were marking the birth of a new nation.
According to a press release that was sent to media yesterday, the Bill, which was two years in the making “has been certified, passes constitutional muster and now enters the parliamentary process by which it will be considered, debated and we hope passed into law. “
“We now begin the process of lobbying Members of Parliament (MPs) to support the Bill, while also undertaking mass scale voter education.”
Only 17.6 million people voted in the last national elections, while 19.7 million eligible South Africans chose not to vote, says the press release.
“This [high proportion of stayaway voters] is a vote of no confidence in our political system as it stands.
“We believe this Bill will best serve the interests of every South African, and most particularly those who have remained marginalised, neglected and increasingly alienated from the politics of the day, by ensuring the direct election of accountable community leaders to Parliament,” said *.
The press release says the Direct Elections Bill seeks to ensure accountable representation by:
- Creating a direct relationship between voters and their member of Parliament;
- Giving true effect to the Constitutional provision that states “[E]very adult citizen has the right to stand for public office and, if elected, to hold office”;
- Curtailing the excessive power political parties currently wield over all Members of Parliament;
- Ensuring voters can elect the best of the best to provincial and national legislatures; and
- Ensuring that public representatives will answer only to voters in the community they represent
It says the salient features of the Bill are:
- An open party list system;
- Creation of a constituency-based system:
- 52 constituencies, geographically made up of eight metros and 44 district municipalities, inline with COGTA’s Intergovernmental Bill;
- Reduction of the National Assembly from 400 to 350 seats; and
- Allowing for independent candidates, giving proper effect to section 19 of the Constitution.
“The increasing and continuing alienation of voters from the political system is detrimental to democracy and the well-being of society at large.
“It’s time we are given the opportunity to directly elect the best of the best to serve South Africa and change its fortunes,” says the press release.