Don’t com­plain if you do not use your right to vote

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions were never meant to be about Ja­cob Zuma, Mmusi Maimane or Julius Malema. They were never meant to be about Nel­son Man­dela and who has the right to claim his le­gacy.

The elec­tions are sup­posed to be about ser­vice de­liv­ery at the most im­por­tant level of govern­ment, of­ten re­ferred to as the coal­face.

When you cast your vote next week, as I hope you will, you should think be­yond the posters bear­ing the faces of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and the in­ces­sant snip­ing between the par­ties.

It is easy to treat Wed­nes­day as a day to catch up on shop­ping, watch a tele­vi­sion se­ries, or have a braai with fam­ily and friends. You should not nec­es­sar­ily ex­clude any of th­ese ac­tiv­i­ties, but you should spend some time join­ing the queues at your lo­cal polling sta­tion to make your mark.

And when you are there, in­stead of wor­ry­ing about na­tional pol­i­tics only, ask your­self whether the peo­ple in con­trol of your mu­nic­i­pal­ity, or more specif­i­cally your ward, are do­ing a de­cent job of mak­ing sure your rub­bish is picked up, your pot­holes fixed, deal­ing with crime in your area and the many other things for which coun­cil­lors are ex­pected to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

If not, then maybe s/he does not de­serve your vote. If yes, maybe s/he de­serves another chance, ir­re­spec­tive of his/her po­lit­i­cal party.

Ask your­self where your can­di­date has been in the years since the last elec­tion. Have you seen him at com­mu­nity gath­er­ings, has she been part of the neigh­bour­hood watch? Have you seen her at church ser­vices, at school sports matches? Or have you seen his/her face for the first time on a poster im­plor­ing you to vote for change, or con­ti­nu­ity.

Of course, we can­not get away from the na­tional is­sues, even though this is a lo­cal govern­ment elec­tion. This is South Africa, af­ter all, and ev­ery­thing is al­ways wrapped in ev­ery­thing else.

We can­not wish away Nkandla and its as­so­ci­ated prob­lems, or the SABC and SAA sagas; or the DA’s fla­grant abuse of Nel­son Man­dela’s le­gacy in a cheap at­tempt to score po­lit­i­cal points. We can­not wish away that the EFF was formed by some­one who was undis­ci­plined as an ANC mem­ber and who is now ask­ing us to trust him with run­ning our mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

We can­not run away from the fact our coun­try is still much racialised in the way it was un­der apartheid, and will prob­a­bly be for a long time to come.

Ev­ery elec­tion, those of us who were in the trenches fight­ing against apartheid have ques­tions about our al­le­giances and many of us con­sider whether we should vote at all.

I was grap­pling with this from the first demo­cratic elec­tion in 1994, when I looked at the list of can­di­dates of the only party for which I would con­sider vot­ing at the time, the ANC. I did not like many of the names on the list be­cause they were peo­ple I knew and I knew their weak­nesses.

But I thought I had fought so long and hard for the right to vote that I needed to ex­er­cise this right. So I voted for the first time at the age of 34 in Kens­ing­ton, Jo­han­nes­burg, ac­com­pa­nied by my wife and my daugh­ter, who was a few months old.

Twenty-two years later and my daugh­ter is a beau­ti­fully grown-up wo­man and can now vote for the sec­ond time – she voted for the first time in the na­tional elec­tions – and I owe it to her and her gen­er­a­tion to con­tinue my vot­ing tra­di­tion.

How can I im­plore them to vote and make a dif­fer­ence to so­ci­ety if I am not pre­pared to do the same? I know there are peo­ple who say one vote does not make a dif­fer­ence, but it does.

If ev­ery­one de­cided not to vote, we would have se­ri­ous prob­lems and you can­not com­plain if you did not use your right to vote.

So then the dif­fi­cult is­sue: who to vote for? It is not for me, or any­one else, to tell you on whom you should use one of your most pre­cious com­modi­ties in a democ­racy but you need to think about who and which party can make a dif­fer­ence in your life and the lives of the peo­ple who mat­ter to you.

At ward level, it is some­times eas­ier be­cause, if you know your coun­cil­lor and you know s/he has been work­ing, you would not have dif­fi­culty sup­port­ing them on that ba­sis and not nec­es­sar­ily based on the party they rep­re­sent. They could well be in­de­pen­dent. Some in­de­pen­dents have been known to work very well for their con­stituents.

It be­comes more dif­fi­cult when it comes to the pro­por­tional vote, where you have to choose the party you wish to rep­re­sent your in­ter­ests in the coun­cil. Your choices do not have to be the same on the pro­por­tional and the ward lists. In the Western Cape, we have more than 60 par­ties con­test­ing the elec­tions. I hope the IEC did not have to fit all their names on one bal­lot pa­per in all the ar­eas.

But here is where the na­tional pro­file of the par­ties and their lead­ers be­come im­por­tant and you need to look at the per­for­mance of par­ties in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that they’ve con­trolled be­fore mak­ing up your minds.

It is dif­fi­cult to do this for some par­ties,be­cause they don’t con­trol mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties – yet – so you have to con­sider, based on what they prom­ise, whether they will be able to de­liver.

I will be mak­ing my mark on Wed­nes­day. Who I will vote for is not yet de­cided and will prob­a­bly only be de­cided when I look at the bal­lot pa­per in the vot­ing sta­tion. But vote I will, and you should too.

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