Saturday, May 21, 2011

why i voted...

AFTER casting my vote on Wednesday I chatted to a few people about the
elections. One non-voter said he did not believe in the current system, but
in a plutocracy where educated people should be running the government.

Being a bit ignorant about this I decided to look up plutocracy and discovered it is actually a government system by the wealthy by virtue of their wealth. Given the current phenomenon of many people getting wealthier because of their political affiliations, the notion of a plutocracy isn't too much of a stretch for South Africa.

My housemate and her friend also confessed to exercising their right not to vote. I am never sure how far my judgment should extend on this decision, given that people have the right to choose to vote or not. But the history of the franchise in South Africa, especially for black women, has always led me to take my voting rights seriously. So when people choose not to vote I'm never certain what that means-given that a democracy rests on the mantra "for the people, by the people".

Another friend said she did not vote because there was nobody she wanted to vote for in her constituency in Port Elizabeth. So she decided to stay in Grahamstown. Actually she was disappointed she hadn't registered here because she had finally found a candidate she could support and felt strongly about.

Then a friend who did vote and who was in line at the polling station told
me she was only voting because she had someone to vote for. "Chris
McMichael," she announced. I was surprised by her open confession. Since 1994 I have believed what my mother taught me: "Your vote is your secret".

But my friend had no problem being loud and proud about voting for the
Rhodes campus ward candidate Chris McMichael, a student at Rhodes who is
part of the organisation Students for Social Justice. This small group of students has embraced the notion of young people getting involved in social change and social justice, and one way to do this is to have a candidate in the local election.

Then there are also those I know who voted and left the voting stations
elated. "I'm proud to be able to do this," a second year student commented
as we walked out of the polling station together. I didn't delve into people's thoughts about voting for the ANC or the DA - the lesser evil. Given that the media's attention is centred on this rivalry, it always seems, when we talk about voting, we only have these two political parties as options.

But this is a travesty, given the dissatisfaction people have with the ANC and their uncertainty about the DA, a political party spearheaded by women, with a white woman as the leader nogal. The gender and racial tensions and discourse that still pervade often cloud the real issues about why people should or should not vote. To my mind the local elections are critical and should not be bogged down by ideological
debates. Rather, the conversation should focus on who has evidence of service delivery and who does not, who is able to ensure bucket systems are done away with and how housing improves for those who do not have decent homes.

Given the varied reasons for people casting their vote or not, I contemplated why I had voted. This is my second election. My first was in 2009 in the national elections. Then I voted because I wanted to feel like a citizen who could stake a claim in the decision making processes afforded to me.

On Wednesday I voted because I want to add my voice to the change that needs
to happen in one of the poorest municipalities in the Eastern Cape. I recognise that many often feel that casting a vote makes little difference.

But given that there is now a bigger need than ever to seeing meaningful
social change in a democratic country with a progressive Constitution, I
hope every South African will in future consider carefully why they vote or
don't.

[first appeared in Friday's Daily Dispatch]

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