What a privilege to vote for the party of my choice
The miracle of voting in South Africa
South Africans went to the polls this morning for the fourth time since the advent of our democratic dispensation in 1994. These are some of my thoughts about the process:
This morning I did what has been taken for granted for decades in most
other countries of the world - I placed a cross next to the party of my
choice on a ballot paper and put the paper into a ballot box. No great
shakes, nothing earth-shattering in that, one might say.
But let's not forget the history that we come from, a history in which millions were prevented, for many decades, from doing exactly that.
I always feel a great sense of the past when I go to vote, remembering those who worked so hard, made so many sacrifices, and indeed died, for the right to do so. It is a sacred moment in the life of a democracy, a sacred ritual almost, a declaration of freedom and individual responsibility.
It is because it is so important that I feel irritated by those who try to downplay the importance of the moment. I feel irritated but have to respect their right not to vote, which is also an important right.
However the responsibility of a citizen in a true democracy really is to vote, whatever the circumstances.
During the apartheid years, until about 1977 I did vote, though somewhat grudgingly I have to admit, for the old Progressive Federal Party and its predecessors. After 1977 I refused to participate any more in the process as the apartheid regime only used the sham democracy to justify its continued oppression and disenfranchisement of the majority in South Africa.
What my vote means to me
The next time I went to a polling station was when there was a
referendum for the tri-cameral constitution, in which I think I spoilt
my paper as a protest against the whole thing.
Thereafter I shunned white politics until the referendum about the release of the people's leaders and unbanning of the democratic formations, when I voted, enthusiatically, YES!
And then, of course, that great day whose anniversary we celebrate next Monday, 27 April 1994, when with great excitement I queued for more than four hours in the blazing sun to proudly place my X next to the name of the African National Congress, a process I repeated twice more.
Today, after a lot of soul-searching, thought and not a little sadness, my cross went next to the name of the Congress of the People, or Cope. But I was sure of that vote, and proud that I was able to make a rational, informed choice, and place my cross on that ballot paper, along with a few thousand others who made their choices and voted in the Valleisig Dutch Reformed Church, Faerie Glen, Pretoria.
Voting is a privilege and a duty - as the saying goes, if you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain.
When we vote in South Africa, for whosoever we vote, we are fulfilling the hopes, dreams and aspirations of those many millions who went before us without ever having the opportunity to do so themselves, who were denied the right which citizens of other countries take for granted.
May we in South Africa never take the right for granted, but always maintain vigilance that the right is never again taken away or diminished, tampered with in any way. Its too precious a right.
This year's campaign
The campaign this year has been the most robust since the inaugural democratic elections of 1994, for two main reasons:
1. The controversy surrounding the candidacy of the African National Congress's (ANC) President Jacob Zuma, who until the charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) faced a raft of accusations of graft, money laudering and other forms of corruption.
2. The emergence of a new opposition party which split off from the ANC in October last year, the first party of any significance to do so. This party is the Congress of the People (Cope) and it has fought a spirited campaign in spite of its youth.
The elections are being contested by some 40 parties on both national and provincial levels, all of them vying for the support of around 23 million registered voters, a large proportion of whom are young, first time voters.
The ANC has been in government since the 1994 elections, consistently pulling more than 60% of the votes, but it has been facing increasing levels of frustration at the slow pace of delivery of the changes that voters have expected. It is also facing the difficulties of changing from a liberation movement to a normal political party and faces huge ideological and organisational challenges within its ranks.
The ANC is part of the so-called "Tri-Partite Alliance" in wich it has two partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). There are many in South Africa who feel that these two partners in the Alliance have forced the ANC to move leftward, though that is not the perception of all observers, and I have personally some problems with that characterisation of the situation.
What is a problem for many, and here I am in agreement, is that the party forced the very able but somewhat aloof former president Thabo Mbeki out of office before his term had ended, and did so in a way which was not dignified, though it was not in any way unconstitutional.
Zuma himself has been widely criticised for his personal attributes and the aura of corruption which still hangs around him, as he has not faced his accusers in open court and there are many questions surrounding the dropping of the charges against him.
However he has an almost fanatical support base among rural and working class people, and has been touted in some quarters as a "Black Jesus."
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), under the leadership of the very articulate Ms Helen Zille, has waged its campaign pretty much on opposition to Zuma as a person, citing his many gaffes and the dropping of the charges as making him unfit to rule.
The DA's main posters in the election have been displaying in bold lettering the slogan "Stop Zuma," as if he is the only election issue.
Cope, on the other hand, is having its first electoral test today, and has fielded a highly attractive, articulate and well-educated former Methodist bishop, Dr Mvume Dandala, as its presidential candidate. The party has been plalgued with organisational glitches, to be expected in so young a party contesting an election on two fronts so soon after its formation.
Some of the party logos
The process today
With more than 19 000 voting stations across the country, many in almost inaccessible locations, there were bound to be problems, and some stations opened late this morning and it voters were naturally frustrated.
A presiding officer in a voting station in kwaZulu-Natal was allegedly discovered this morning to be in possession of a ballot box stuffed full of already marked ballot papers, before the polls had even opened. She has been charged with fraud and other offenses under the Electoral Act.
Generally I believe voters have confidence in the IEC, and the process seems to have gone with remarkably few problems considering the huge logistical challenges faced by the IEC.
This is the fourth time that all registered voters in South Africa have gone to the polls and all indications are that the political landscape is going to be different once the count is finished.
There is little doubt that the ANC will win, but the positions of the opposition parties are what will be of interest, as well as the size of the ANC majority.
If nothing else, this election has shown that South Africa is becoming politically mature, and that the issue of race and the defeat of apartheid are becoming less important to voters, that we can look forward in the coming years to a normalisation of politics, where bread-and-butter issues will start to take precendence over history and ethnicity.