As we celebrate Freedom Month, it’s fitting that we reflect on one of the wonderful gifts democracy has given us: our legislatures. 

Prof. Kondlo is a Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Before he joined UJ, he was a Senior Professor and Director of the Centre for Africa Studies at the University of the Free State and has prior experience working in government. He’s the author of two books, has co-edited five others and had the privilege of being the first black CEO of what is now known as the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI). 

The Institute for the Study of Legislatures in South Africa is his non-profit response to the need for engagement between legislatures, the communities they represent and tertiary institutions. We asked Professor Kwandiwe Kondlo, one of the founding members of the Institute for the Study of Legislatures in South Africa (ISL), about the importance of public participation.


How can we increase public participation?

The issue is not about increasing public participation, especially if one is talking about numbers. The issue is not how many forums of public participation must be there in a year but it is about making public participation more effective, more focused, results driven and more owned by communities. As the ISL we have clear positions on this matter but will need a separate forum or publication altogether to delve into the details.    


Why is public participation important – what happens when people don’t participate?

Most importantly, when people don’t participate, policies they don’t even understand are promulgated and thrusted on them. Public participation in all spaces created by law is important for two reasons – one, for the ‘co-origination’ and ‘co-authorship’ of government policy and secondly, for collective policy ownership and support. Government must implement policies we fully understand and policies we fully identify with. 


The implementers, the users and addressees of public policy, must be co-originators and co-authors if public policy is to be harmonised with the normative values of a people-centred democracy. 

These values are centred on reciprocal relationships of respect and active involvement. Grassroots based community dialogues (which the ISL seeks to champion) are the epicentres of co-origination and co-authorship exercises and need to be carefully managed and tapped as a useful resource in the generation of policy issues and validation of policy direction and impact.


What are the advantages of a representative, participatory democracy compared to other models?

Our democracy is representative and I would say is strongly aspiring to be participatory in the numerous forums of public participation. In South Africa there are innovative approaches for the effective combination of “representative with participatory democracy, in order to improve the quality of the first through the contributions of the second” (Ginsborg 2008: 12). 

In practice the enrichment of representative democracy by insights generated by participatory democracy is very slender. Hence the need to reconfigure and strengthen public participation is key to the resolution of problems


How is the ISL creating a link between legislatures and communities?

The ISL is starting a chain of community-based conversations that start as units and then groups and later large community gatherings, not meeting to criticise the state, but meeting to ensure that people understand messages from the government, from local to national governments. This will in turn lead us to a proper understanding of the integrity of spaces of participation for ordinary citizens to ensure that their voices are not overwhelmed by elite interests and biases be it at local, provincial and national levels.  


What message do you have for the public about participating in the law-making process?

The underlying assumptions in the issues raised by a cross-section of participants need to be noted, unpacked and understood to inform the formal aspects of law-making.



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