#JongStemme: Civic duty or not?


By Jacques van der Merwe

In 2024, South Africa will celebrate 30 years of democracy which will be accompanied by a national election.

It reminded me of my first election in which I took part, the municipal election of 2021. In the same election, I observed a radical turnaround where municipalities that were previously strongly represented by the ruling party lost their majority. This was the beginning of a debate that was fueled about a possible political upheaval that might be on the cards.

In that same year, many of my fellow students questioned me for participating in the election. Comments like “What’s the point of voting if the same party always wins?” or “Voting is not going to change the realities” and finally “You sacrificed a nice holiday for an election that doesn’t matter.”

I can also remember how reports were broadcast about polling stations where only a handful of individuals turned up to vote, as well as the youth who did not see a chance to participate in the election. An interesting statistic from the 2021 election was that out of the 26.2 million people who were registered to vote, only 12 million people voted – a mere 46%.

With the above in mind, two questions constantly stayed with me. What is the point of a democracy if you are not going to vote? And why do we have a democracy in the first place? When I look at states where people suffer heavily under authoritarian, illiberal or even military regimes, I even wonder what those people in such states would do or sacrifice to be able to live in a similar democracy that the Western world currently enjoys.

When it comes to elections, I am reminded of the quote from the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He has in his book Meditations, wrote the following: “You have to put your life together yourself – action by action. And be satisfied when everyone achieves his goal, as far as it can.” In the spirit of his quote, I am going to give reasons why we as civilians should participate in an election, whether municipal or national.

First of all. Voting is a civic duty and therefore even one of the most important duties performed by any individual in society. It amounts to the social contract we signed as civilians. If we, as individuals, do not vote out incompetent leaders they will stay there. By not voting, we are indirectly giving these incompetent would-be leaders the reins to continue with their failed strategy. Parties that cannot keep their manifesto promises should be voted out.

Secondly. Voting is more than just marking a cross on a ballot paper. It’s about civic responsibility. If we vote, we are responsible for the future of all citizens and South Africa. With this responsibility assigned to us, we must reason honestly and logically, so that we can tackle the great challenges we are currently experiencing.

To not vote we place these responsibilities in the hands of a future generation whose problems will only worsen or become totally unsolvable. Although this is a great civic responsibility, we must all stand together for the general welfare of our society. So it is in our hands for whom we make that cross on the ballot.

Thirdly. In a democracy, everyone is supposed to be entitled to an opinion (ignore what some twisted politicians say who think otherwise) or to have no opinion. By not voting, the realities of poverty, crime, unemployment and a burdened economy will not improve. If you argue that your one vote will not make a difference, you are, in my opinion, short-sighted. Your one vote may just be the one that causes a party’s breakthrough.

Isn’t it better to try to improve your country than to just be a thread sitter who wants to give a negative “what if” opinion? It would be wise to participate in the democratic processes. A better South Africa is built day by day and election by election. Your vote should be for the right reason and not for revenge or mere opposition.

Finally, I don’t want to underestimate community participation. While I recognize the shortcomings of elections, elections are not the only way to make positive changes. In the short period that I did shadow work at AfriForum, I observed first-hand how communities work together to tackle major challenges such as the deterioration of infrastructure and community safety, among others, and try to find sustainable solutions where municipalities have failed.

Precisely for this reason, any community participation is also an important foundation in any democracy. It would be cynical to go to the polls and expect change to happen.

With the national election around the corner, I’m definitely going to make my mark, and I hope I’ve succeeded in encouraging current and future voters to do the same. If there is still any doubt or contradiction, I conclude with the words of Napoleon Bonaparte: “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”

  • Jacques van der Merwe is a student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics and has a great passion for history and politics.

#JongStemme is a project by RNews and Solidarity Youth that wants to emphasize the youth’s voice in the public domain. Visit Solidarity Youth’s website at www.jeug.co.za for help and advice with your career.

If you are between 18 and 26 years old and want to write an opinion piece, send an email to jeug@solidariteit.co.za and we will be happy to get in touch with you.