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Fr Smangaliso Mkhatshwa writes to journalist Ranjeni Munusamy asking her to vote

Prominent political journalist and committed Catholic, Ranjeni Munusamy has said that she will likely be unable to vote given the lacklustre state of politics in South Africa. But one of the country’s best-known Catholic priests and a strong political stalwart, Smangaliso Mkhatshwa is trying hard to get her to change her mind as Ricardo da Silva SJ reports.

“I doubt I will be able to bring myself to vote on Wednesday but have been trying to research why I should.” 

These were the provocative words penned by prolific political journalist and commentator Ranjeni Munusamy in her popular Sunday Times column this past Sunday, 07 May 2019.

The admission of doubt, when it comes to voting, expressed by Munusamy chimes with many South Africans, as it surely does with voters the world over. Even still, it is shocking that one of the most senior journalists in our country should make such a statement. It is alarming to read the flailing hopes of someone who spends much of her life in close proximity to politicians.

Admittedly, Munusamy’s musings on whether or not to vote are not whimsical. It is clear that she is taking great care as she forms her conscience on whether or not to pitch at a voting station and cast her ballot come 8 May. Her most compelling reason for abstaining seems to be that “no political party on the ballot represents who I am or has any plan or ability to address the complex problems of our country”, she writes. 

In her column, she cites one of the most popular reasons people give for voting in spite of any serious reservations: “[s]upporting the lesser of two evils”. In other words, this is what Catholic Social Teaching refers to as the principle of double effect. But, Munusamy is unconvinced by this as it “is still supporting evil”. And so, she is left asking, “But, is voting the best way to stand up and fight for our country?”. Unconvinced as she is, she still admits to being open to having her mind and heart changed.

Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, Catholic priest and chairperson of Moral Regeneration Movement, is a frequent reader of Munusamy’s weekly column.

This week, her thoughts on voting and especially her possible abstention from what he sees as her “moral duty”, have prompted him to write to her. In a personal letter responding to her column, he tries to bring about a conversion on her present voting stance. 

Interestingly, Mkhatshwa appeals to Munusamy not on the basis of her political-analyst credentials but rather on the grounds of her faith as a committed Catholic. 

Perhaps expectedly, given the journalist’s own citing of the beforementioned Catholic principle, Mkhatshwa calls her to change her mind and vote “according to sound Catholic Theology, when one is faced with two or more evils, one must choose the lesser evil”.

But he is not unsympathetic to her quagmire. The priest admits that he does not have “an in principle or fundamental disagreement” with the Catholic journalist. “Unlike many voters you are seriously applying your mind. You don’t want to legitimise a political practice fraught with moral and political ambiguities”, he writes in his letter to Munusamy. But still, he reminds her that “the vote is a powerful weapon for social transformation”. 

Even if Munusamy doesn’t vote, Mkhatshwa begs her to keep fighting and using the power of her pen as a media professional, reminding her that “media professionals do contribute immensely to deepening democracy, and good governance by keeping a close watch on the leaders on behalf of the people”

Mkhatshwa’s praise for the work of journalists, like Munusamy, is indisputable.

“Do not underestimate the power of the Fourth Estate. Its practitioners have routinely exposed malfeasance and corrupt government practices, social pathologies, propensities to materialism, public workers, inefficiency and arrogance.

“The ballot box should not be regarded as ‘deus ex machina’ for all our problems”, he writes.

Like Munusamy, there are many who are committed to our democratic political project but are left too jaded and hopeless given present shenanigans by politicians to take to the polls on Wednesday. Even still, the efforts of determined citizens like Mkhatshwa might help them to change their minds. And perhaps even to come to realise, as he said in another of his articles written for City Press, that “failing to vote is pointless political behaviour.”

It appears that at least for Munusamy such efforts by Mkhatshwa have further pricked her conscience. She offered the following reply when asked to comment on the Catholic priest’s appeal to get her to vote. 

“I was very moved by the letter from Fr Mkhatshwa, and appreciated that he took the time to give me counsel. I think the decision about whether to vote and who to vote for weighs heavily on many people. As journalists we spend our lives trawling through the muck and when you look at things collectively, the “lesser evil” is still a lot of evil. 

“I have not made a decision yet and my Catholic faith will guide me in what I ultimately do.” 

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Ricardo da Silva SJ
Ricardo is a member of the South African region of the Jesuits and an ordained deacon of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2020, he received a master's degree in journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York, where he was an African Pulitzer Fellow and reported on religion, mental health, housing and other social injustices. Before moving to the U.S.A., Ricardo served as acting editor of and was on the team at Jesuit Institute South Africa. His preparation for ministry as a Jesuit has taken him to study theology in Brazil, philosophy in the U.K and brief working stints in Zimbabwe and Spain. As a Jesuit, he has ministered to refugees, migrants, people experiencing street homelessness, young adults, seminarians, the elderly, and high school and university students, staff and faculty. Before entering religious life in 2007, Ricardo worked in marketing, communications, and brand management before joining the Jesuits in 2007. Ricardo holds dual citizenship, having emigrated from Portugal to South Africa at the age of six with his mother.

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