It amazes me daily how many South Africans fail to ask their public representatives to assist them with the various problems they encounter when dealing with their local authorities, government departments or officialdom in general.
We voted in public representatives not only to make a political statement of support for a particular party. That’s important of course. But in our daily lives, in between elections, what we all need is someone on our side, fighting our case, standing up for our rights, making sense out of red tape and delivering a service to us.
We should be insisting on excellence in return for our votes and our rates and taxes. And we should be kicking up a huge fuss if we don’t get it. I hung up my gloves last year, after many years as a public representative at every sphere of government – so I know what I’m on about …
Cutting to the chase and what’s deeply concerning to me right now, is the attitude, approach and behaviour of many public representatives in South Africa.
I think the bar has lowered to an alarming degree, to be blunt. I expect public representatives to feel honoured to have been elected and to show it with their every breath. A big ask? Yes, why not?
I think service delivery from individuals across the spectrum has taken a sharp dive. There is a sense of self-importance amongst many (probably picked up by hanging out with those from the previous and current regimes for so long) and it leaves a very bad taste.
It was Tony Leon – the party leader who turned the then DP, a 1,73 percent party, into the official opposition in the space of five years – who drummed into the rank and file: We are the servants of the people, not their masters. It’s a message and tone that I haven’t heard recently. And on the rare occasion that it is trotted out by well-meaning leadership figures, it’s trite and aimless …
Gosh, I was so completely overwhelmed by being elected for the first time as a lowly councillor in Brakpan in 1997, that it took me a good week to absorb my good fortune and the great honour bestowed on me! It seems so old-fashioned and naïve now, looking back, but I wouldn’t have missed that feeling for the world.
Let me skip a beat here and say I hope it’s obvious that these musings don’t apply to every public representative in SA. I loathe generalisations. There are many obvious exceptions, some of whom make it on to your TV screens, many who labour in love unnoticed by the public (or their parties, methinks). If you’ve been blessed with one of them, good luck to you!
So I’d like to make a direct appeal to our country’s public reps: lose the self-importance.
Remember, you got to this position to serve your fellow citizens through their vote. Answer your damn phones, no matter what the time of day. If you think that’s unfair or too much to ask, make way for someone who will. No-one asked you to put yourself on the line. You voluntarily chose this path. Do it properly and thoroughly and do it graciously. Yes, I know the fish rots from the top down, but no-one in their right mind would consider Mr Zuma a role model.
I’m tired of hearing public representatives referring to themselves, verbally and in writing, as Dr/Prof/Clr/Honourable/even Mr and Mrs. We hire you. I’ll call you by your first name and you call me Ma’m.
Please don’t list every degree you’ve ever earned or every position you’ve ever held or every award you’ve ever won behind your name. As a resident, I want your assistance, not your CV.
Wanna make me mad? Tell me to call another public rep or official because YOU can’t help me/it’s not in your area/it’s not your job/it’s not within your portfolio. Just don’t. YOU do the phoning and call ME back. We clear?
Do not treat Council, Legislature or Parliamentary staff as your personal underlings to show off your importance in front of residents – it’s unattractive and they don’t work for you. They work for the citizens of this country. We pay them. And you.
Oh yes. Do not give dreary run-downs of your daily toil in minute detail on your Facebook page or other social media platforms. I do NOT want to know what time you
got out of bed and what time you got back in it, even if you’ve had an 18-hour day, UNLESS you’re willing to hear the same thing from me and every other resident in your ward/constituency. You’re not the only one who works hard for a living. People want backbone in their public reps, not martyrdom. The only compliment you should expect is my vote next time, if you’ve deserved it.
Don’t lie to me. If you can’t fix something, tell me. Do NOT patronise me or you’ll find your name in a Letter to the Editor. Do not THINK that you’re solving a problem by merely forwarding my emails to you on to an official. Seriously, I could do that myself. I want YOUR intervention, I want you to FIGHT for me, I want ACTION.
So there endeth the first lesson. Use it. Don’t use it.