Scary stories from a lovely place
This weekend was apparently the last opportunity for Joburgers to register to vote in the upcoming municipal elections. If you live in Gauteng I hope you’re now on the the list. Though, I understand turn out at the registration weekends hasn’t been great.
On the radio on Friday an irate small business owner phoned in to bemoan that the election would mean another public holiday. There are already a lot of these in South Africa, and in late April/early May out of 10 working days, only 3 aren’t public holidays. The annoying lady was demanding the government call the election over a weekend rather than force another non-work day. Listeners proceeded to call in claiming they are too busy with religious meetings or driving their kids around to various exhausting activities on the weekend. All claimed they would never give up those things to go and queue and vote.
Shame, whatever happened to a sense of civic duty? You’d think in South Africa where the vast majority of the population couldn’t vote until 1995, everyone would now do it boldly and proudly. And indeed the statistics aren’t too bad – 77% of the registered voters in the country made their mark in the 2009 election when Zuma came into power at the head of the ANC.
This whole notion of choosing to vote is peculiar to me. In Australia voting is compulsory. If you are registered to vote, you have to, or you pay a fine. I don’t know of any other democratic country in the world that has the same policy. It may seem a bit strange, but I like it. I like that we are forced to contribute on election day. The way around it is to ‘donkey vote’, which means putting the paper in the ballot box with nothing written on it, or voting incorrectly or drawing a new box and putting your own name next to it and voting for yourself. Someone I knew once did this, but put the name Saddam Hussein. I’ve heard Australians who do this say the reason they don’t care is because ‘they are all just going to break their promises anyway. So it doesn’t matter.’ And in a country like Australia where there aren’t any major problems and the two potential ruling parties are pretty similar, this is kind of true.
But in South Africa where there is really only one ruling party who have been in power for a while, and where lots of South Africans daily complain about the government, to me an election seems like the time to voice those frustrations.
A few weeks ago there were some messy riots in Ermelo and Delmas. The rioters were protesting their living conditions and the lack of service being delivered by the government. Basically they’ve been promised better lives but these haven’t transpired and people are living without basic services like sanitation. Rioting and violent protests send a definite message. I also hope they will try and send a message at election time. But even for those who aren’t rioting, the election is the time to back up whinging with action. Everyone who doesn’t vote should be forbidden from complaining about the government until the next election.
This is why I think choosing not to vote is unconscionable. It is easy to feel like one vote would never make a difference in a country of millions of voters. But that is a defeatist attitude which won’t solve anything. If huge clusters of people act on that feeling then certainly an election will make no difference to the life of a country. But when people step up and have a say about which person or party will run their lives, then change will happen.