An article recently came up on one of my social network feeds claiming that the worst possible scenario that Mzansi faces in the near future is “six more years of Jacob Zuma as our president”. My personal views about our President aside, I want to point to something much more serious that is going on in our country: Apathy. And, in the true spirit of apathy, so few of us seem to care or even notice.
Ours is a nation whose emotions are very easily brought to the boil at the mention of anything political. Understandably so. Politics has long been – and still is – the cause of much pain and frustration in our beautiful country. Worse, however, than the news of corruption and scandals that seem to have grown more frequent during President Zuma’s time in office, is our complacency as a nation. We have exchanged apartheid for apathy, and that’s nothing we can blame on the President, the government, or the ruling party.
A picture of former president Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela has ben circulating on that same social network feed the article appeared on, accompanied by a quote allegedly from an address delivered by Mandela to COSATU in 1994. It reads: “If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government.”
Having been 4 years old at the time of the first democratic elections, the only kind of Mzansi I know is a democratic one. My experience of our recent past comes from a few books, videos, and stories I have heard from others. Thus in my mind, the quote logically continued: “…vote them out!” But that isn’t what Mandela was saying, was it? Having just ushered the country out of an era in which majority of the population couldn’t even vote; I’m sure his intended message was a lot more poignant.
It took a great deal of work for the ANC (and the for the liberation movement as a whole) to achieve what they did in ’94 and to take the country to where it was then. That hard work involved political education; giving people a reason to do get up and do something about the situation they were in. The nature of that political education is probably what has lead to the culture of rhetoric, protesting, and electioneering that we see today but – looking at the bigger picture – it brought us democracy.
My point is that the apartheid government wasn’t toppled by complaints and criticism. Likewise, any party that wants to see itself in power legitimately will have to take action; and no small measure of it. Action in the form of listening to South Africans, educating us about the values entrenched in our Constitution and about the democratic channels and resources at our disposal for shaping the kind of Mzansi we want to live in; action in the form empowering South Africans with the knowledge and skills that will help us empower ourselves however else we want. These are the things that every single political party has on the whole failed to do, because we have let them.
If the ruling party was doing enough, more South Africans might have realised that they are not as marginalised, disempowered, and helpless as they feel. If any of the opposition parties were doing enough, they might have already won a larger share of votes. It is tempting to say that the problem is with our political elite as a whole, but it is with us who elect them.
So, by the time you draw an X on your ballot in April 2014, you should have asked yourself these three things about each party: ‘1) Has this party done enough to improve the South Africa I live in today? 2) Does this party share my vision for the South Africa I want to live in? 3) Will this party make me feel like I matter and have a say with regards to how my country is run?’ Any party that scores less than 2 out of those 3 does not deserve your vote, and if none of them do, then walk into the voting booth knowing that your ballot will be spoilt.
This is the attitude that we should take on as South Africans, especially now as we head towards election season. Now more than ever, we cannot vote for a party because they seem to do a good job of criticising the parties we don’t agree with, because our friends or family vote for them, or ‘just because, nje’. Nor can we afford not to vote at all. There is too much at stake for us not to engage with our politics at some level or other.
When I cast my vote in 2014, the party I choose will be the one that I believe best represents my political opinions, is most conducive to the South Africa I want to live in, and will allow me to contribute to that South Africa now and in the future.
It is up to you and me to make a personal and informed decision before we step into the voting booth. More importantly, it is up to you and me to keep our elected leaders -whoever they are – accountable to the values upheld in our Constitution. Presidents and their governments will come and go. South Africa is here to stay.