In 1994 it was simpler to encourage people to vote: 26, 27 and 28 April of that year would mark the end of a political era and it would also usher in the start of a new order.
What was more decisive, however, was that white and black would stand together in the election line for the first time – long, winding lines of people, all too aware that on those days and those moments they were jointly (patiently, kindly) making history.
“My full citizenship and what it feels like to be able to vote already began on the 26th when on my way to Mamma I encountered beaming old people and cripples being transported back and forth to polling stations by hordes of minibuses,” writes Abraham Phillips, famous for his “transition novel” The Lost Land in SA 27 April – a writer’s diarycompiled by André P. Brink for Queillerie publishers.
Well, if I underestimated the election fever, I missed it badly. The enthusiasm was overwhelming, I haven’t seen Mum get dressed so quickly in a long time.
Indeed, the new South Africa kicked off with overwhelming enthusiasm – and with Nelson Mandela’s conciliatory attitude. Not only Madiba’s leadership as our first democratic president, but also sport bound us together. We began to embrace each other’s humanity. Our country’s economic growth also showed an upward curve, while for the first time in their lives many citizens were able to enjoy basic human rights and the benefit of their own home, a flush toilet and a tap with running water.
Unfortunately, the new dispensation also gave the bad natures of man a new foothold: fraud, corruption, self-enrichment and gluttony increased by leaps and bounds over time. By the time democracy came of age, we were also confronted with a phenomenon we now know as “state creation”, which flourished under Jacob Zuma as president and Cyril Ramaphosa as his deputy. In the latter’s defence, however, one must point out that after his takeover in February 2018 he committed himself to the eradication of state capture, corruption and poor service delivery.
It’s not like he didn’t get anything done, but he may have promised more than he knew he could deliver. However, what is of greater concern to most South African citizens is the deterioration in the maintenance of infrastructure, including water treatment plants and the repair of potholes, and the increase in service delivery challenges such as the provision of electricity and housing.
You don’t have to write extensively about grief; everyone who reads here is familiar with the sorry state of affairs in our country. This is why only staunch ANC supporters still believe the party can right itself and the country, but how they will make it a reality is a big guess.
Opposition parties see in this an emergency call and an opportunity. Seven – now eight, after the ACDP also joined – have drawn up a multi-party charter for the 2024 elections with the DA’s preparatory work. By this they commit themselves to team up in order to unseat the ANC and prevent these forces from joining forces with the EFF to retain power. The ANC believes that it will still win the election with an absolute majority and that it therefore does not have to stop itself from any coalition talks.
But a change is only possible if the wider society also gets involved in this search for a new political beginning for our country. The “wider society” includes civil society organizations as well as influential individuals, but equally important the ears (eyes, hearts) of voters must be reached.
Against this background, Cape Forum was invited a few months ago to form part of a civic initiative to do exactly that, namely to bring the importance of the upcoming election to the attention of “ordinary people” in communities. In one sense it should encourage people to register themselves for the election (or ensure their registration details are updated) and in another it should encourage them not to fall for the “(ANC) devil known to them”. not going to vote
Almost 13 million eligible voters, if I read correctly, would not vote in the previous election because they were not registered; about the same number, who did register, simply decided there was no point in them voting. Loyal ANC voters also stay away from the ballot box rather than vote for another party. We have to get this kind of thinking, the former and the latter, turned around. Nothing is going to change if we don’t do away with an almost fatalistic mindset.
A group of about 20 organizations has now made this challenge their own through an overarching initiative called “Convergence4SA”. Cape Forum forms part of the secretariat. The objectives, in summary, are to participate in voter training before the election, to play an observer role during the election and to ensure after the election that the ruling party(ies) implement values-driven policy decisions and actions.
What is your role, dear RNnews reader? It is to first of all ask yourself the question whether you can afford to be a bother-me-like citizen? What do you want to communicate in this way: that you don’t care what happens next to the country and to you and your family’s future here? Or are you going to do the right thing – almost a civic obligation – by exercising your right to vote for a better dispensation?
We are often told, almost mockingly, that if we don’t vote, we have no right to complain afterwards. Of course, you have the right to complain only when you see fit. But merely complaining makes no difference to the state of affairs; participation in decision-making processes, such as elections, does empower you to exert influence. If you steer away from it, you should consider yourself complicit in the decay that has grown like a malignant tumor in our society over the last thirty years.
Instead, get your voting feathers ready for (probably May) 2024. Afterwards, when the election is over, you can discuss the Springboks’ prospects for rugby’s next World Cup with your neighbors.