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Why voting is not enough

Many South Africans made a firm decision not to vote on 8 May given the bevy of corrupt politicians and the deplorable state of public infrastructure and services. Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya was among these, as he writes.

I planned not to vote in South Africa’s general election on 8 May.

It was not because I was an undecided voter. The opposite is true. I had studied the parties enough to conclude that they were not worth my effort. I decided against voting because it was going to be choosing the lesser evil than the greater good.

And before you, like many others have before you, lecture me on the necessity of voting let me assure you that I understand it full well. I was in student politics before 1990. I was among the teenagers in the late 1980s and early 1990s trying to convince our classmates and hostel inmates of the virtues of an agrarian revolution.

I was a teenager and activist at a time when the apartheid state was at its most violent because it was starting to feel its own mortality. The violence was also at its most hateful.

At school or in the youth movement, it was common to ask about a comrade you had not seen in a while and to be met with a casual announcement that he — and it was mostly he — had either ‘crossed’, meaning he had gone into exile, or been killed by the police.

After school, having dropped out of varsity, I started working at Pick ’n Pay and became a South African Commercial and Catering Workers Union (Saccawu) shop steward, regularly attending the union and the federation (Cosatu) “locals”. Even in this role, difficult decisions had to be made from time to time that had implications beyond the shop floor.

I have close relatives who were either murdered by the apartheid state, exiled or spent time on the infamous Robben Island.

I am saying all these to emphasise that I am not an intellectual convert to the story of how black people got to vote. 

I fully appreciate what the cost of the right to vote, and of freedom as a whole, was. I do not take it lightly and never will. My friends, classmates and comrades gave up their lives for something greater than the vote.

They gave up their young lives for human rights and dignity, which includes the right to vote or not to vote.

I decided against voting in the 2019 General Elections because I have become increasingly despondent about our politics and the culture of political engagement.

Politics has become a beauty pageant or a wrestling match where the biggest drive is to win the contest of who has the most ballot papers with a mark against their name or face. Elections have become like social media punditry and not a site for social activism. Association with the governing party has become a business networking platform or an employment agency.

Where ideas are raised, it has become an elitist project using language and symbols. For example, there is debate raging about breaking Eskom into three parts but also an assumption by the government and anti-government elites as to why this is or is not necessary.

Ask the average South African what they think of National Health Insurance or the benefits of being members of BRICS, and I bet you would be met with blank stares. 

Despite all the reports of the elites committing grand larceny at will, one is more likely to hear about police swapping on migrants trying to eke out a living, cleaning gardens in suburbia or fixing shoes on the side of the road, than we are of those who loot the state.

I chose not to vote because I had become despondent with the powerlessness of being a voter. 

Having had time to think about it, this should be the last time I choose not to vote. This is not because the reasons that made me not vote would have vanished in the elections.

I revised my stance because the only people who gain from a disillusioned electorate are those who seek powers for their own nefarious aims. 

I switched my decision because those who would rather have our society spend its time discussing the wardrobes of Kim Kardashian and Babes Wodumo, instead of politics and how we are governed, would be happier if more and more of us felt defeated and deflated.

Note that I am not just talking about voting. If we want the country we believe we deserve, we must get busy and involved in every way we can and not wait for an election day. Activism must be made as fashionable as voting, if not more so.

I am choosing to return to having an active interest in politics and society because it is the least I can do for the memories of all those young men and women we never saw again after the school holidays during my teenage years. And for the memory of the young men who died or are scarred for life for being part of the Self Defence Units embroiled in deadly violence against their fellow oppressed because they wore different party t-shirts.

Plato was right. “The price good men [and women] pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men [and women].

* 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.