Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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HomeOpinionCalling for active participation — in our politics and in our religion

Calling for active participation — in our politics and in our religion

We might owe greater respect to those who made a principled decision not to vote than to those who did so as a matter of course. That applies to our religious practice too. Are we living our faith or simply meeting obligations, asks Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya. 

I posted on my Facebook page rejecting the idea that those who do not vote, forfeit their right to complain about how the state is run. 

Needless to say, some thought I was encouraging people not to vote when it had nothing to do with that.

Whether or not one wants people to vote, it is bad argument to assume that citizens buy their right to comment about their state by voting. To make it about “complaining” is to infer a negative reason for voting.

It strips citizens of the sense that they are partaking in the making of policy and that they are not passive bystanders who must wait until politicians have thought and acted so that they can complain.

Instead of framing it about complaining, voting should be sold as both an opportunity to actively shape policy and to hold to account those who do not live up to expectations. 

Still, if, upon reflection, one chooses not to vote, your citizenship should be enough to allow you to have a say about your country and how it is governed.

Those who reduce the right to complain to voting, are not too far from those who argue that the weight of their complaint must be weighed in proportion to their tax contribution.

Let me be clear that there are people whose reason for not voting is apathy. These are not bothered about anything and are too lazy to get off their couches except to answer calls of nature or to get more food or drink.

But not everyone who decides against voting should be considered apathetic or lazy.

There is a strongly held view in our society that those who do not vote are apathetic and should have their views dismissed when they complain. 

It is clear to me that the issue is not so much about voting or not voting. Rather it is about how we define apathy and activism. In my view, apathy and activism are defined too narrowly when it comes to what citizens do or not do.

It is an oversimplified view that says that apathy is choosing not to vote while activism is going to the polls to put a mark next to a name and face of a person you feel, think or hope will be a good head of state.

A person who considers all the options in front of them reads up on the issues, attends the town hall debates and meetings to listen to the candidates for themselves and at the end of the day decides that they will not vote, should not be called apathetic.

By the same token, a person who by force of habit and nothing else, joins the queues and votes for a party purely because they have always done that or because they fancy the aesthetic quality of the candidate’s photograph and decide to mark ‘X‘ next to it, cannot, by right, be thought to be better at their responsibilities as citizens.

On deeper reflection, I see why it is easy to accept that a patriot is the one who votes rather than the one who thinks about their vote.

We do the same with religion. All that seems necessary for one to brand themselves as a member of a religious community is to show a baptism certificate or to be known to attend regular faith gatherings, such as Holy Mass, synagogue or mosque.

What in our public life shows that we are a nation of such committed believers? It would seem to me from the levels of crime, violence and hate in our society that we are more interested in the labels we wear than the substance of the faith we profess.

We go to our religious gatherings just like we do to the polling stations — because it is that day of the week (or of the five-year cycle).

So instead of framing activism and faith as narrowly and lazily as we do, we must consider how our daily lives reflect our commitments to patriotism and faith we profess.

If we are serious about activism, as we must be about our faith, we must not wait for five years to show our colour or act as automatons come Sunday or Sabbath.

The people of God and the creation of God entrusted to us deserves our daily attention. Voting day or Sunday are the pinnacle of the worship we ought to practice every day of our lives.  

Jesus did not say we shall see them by the ink on their thumbnails but rather by their fruit.

* 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.