From failure to dux learner


By Arno Roodt

With a day left until the 2024 elections, the importance of citizens’ participation in the democratic process is continuously emphasized by politicians, the media, and everything that is a lamppost.

Yet, when one asks what it means to participate in the “democratic process”, people tend to say with a quick-fire answer: “You have to vote, of course!”

Is depositing my ballot in a box every five years then the measure of my participation in the democratic process?

If this is the case, South African citizens continuously fail the test. (Even with the ANC’s 30% pass rate). Out of the nearly 42.3 million eligible citizens, only 27.6 million registered to vote, of which only 12 million finally turned up at the polling booth in 2021: South Africa therefore achieves a score of only 29% for Democracy 101 – our democracy fail.

I am sure every parent would intervene quickly if their child arrived at home with such a report. Likewise, it is time for us as citizens to jump to work to make our democracy perform.

A good starting point for the rescue effort is to understand what the principle of “Democracy” actually entails. At a basic level, democracy means “the power of the people” – derived from two Greek words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). So, democracy is a real effort to get power into the hands of the people.

When I look at the explanation, it amazes me that many people see their democratic duty as completed after they have gone to vote – that putting a cross on a ballot paper is the full exercise of their democratic power. In reality, all they did was lend a portion of their power, for the next five years, to a political representative – and now they sit back and wait for change.

The people are missing the point. Rather than limiting your “power” to a cross every five years, you should continuously claim the power that is granted to you. The “demos” must seize the “kratos”! We cannot be spectators and just trot to the political playing field every five years with the crazy idea that we will make any real impact – unless we pretend that we are a political “Bomb Squad”. Democracy, just like your child’s Maths performance, requires continuous participation and attention.

How then, as citizens, are we going to turn South Africa’s democracy from failure to dux learner?

Well, by voting of course! – but not only in an election. We must vote with us time – we have to vote with us money – and we must vote with us speech – and thus make our voice heard in every aspect of life.

You should vote with your time by serving your community and getting involved in community organizations that promote your values ​​and interests. Vote with your time for safety, for fewer potholes and for a cleaner environment – by working together and getting involved in organizations such as AfriForum or Betereinders.

You should vote with your money by spending or investing it in causes you believe in. Every rand you spend is a vote for the future you want. Vote with your money for African institutions, for stronger cultural communities and for better social services by making a donation to Helping Hand and investing in Canton.

You must voice your speech by actively participating in discourse that affects you. Voice your voice by sharing the social media content of forward-thinking organizations; by encouraging awareness of issues (and solutions) among your friends and family; by writing, speaking or singing about issues close to your heart – and sharing them with your community (like through #JongStemme).

Democracy is so much more than just the right to vote in an election. It is also the freedom to build a life that will ensure you and your descendants’ prosperity, security and progress. Voting for a party that will establish the necessary policy and governance to achieve this plays an inextricable role in the democratic process – but in the same way, the pursuit of democratic achievement requires more from you than just crossing a cross.

The 2024 election has the undeniable potential to be a watershed moment for South Africa. So, for the election to have the promised impact, it requires people to turn up in large numbers at the polls and make their voices heard – they have to participate in the democratic process. But we must also realize that the democratic process does not begin and end at the ballot box. On the 29th of May 2024 at 21h00 – after all the ballots have been submitted – the real work begins!

We have to approach the election with just as much seriousness”voice” than on voting day. We must use our time, money and speech in such a way as to really make our voice heard and let our democracy perform – from failure to dux learner! So, let’s get out and vote!

  • Arno Roodt is a lawyer at Hurter Spies Ingelyf and co-presenter of the Afrikaans political podcast “Podlitiek”. He is a youth member and parliamentary candidate for the Freedom Front Plus.

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