Today I voted for the 5th time as a South African citizen.
I was eligible to vote for five elections before this – but these were elections that excluded black South Africans. I as a white South African believed that participating in the racist structures prevented justice for black people, and therefore I could not in good conscience vote for this system. Instead I committed my energy to changing the system to include all our citizens.
It was therefore with great sense of liberation that I participated in our first democratic elections in 1994. I was a community monitor for the Independent Electoral Commission in the Helderberg Basin. I celebrated the way the whole community pulled together to vote – Strand, Rusthof, Lwandle, Macassar, Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass turned out with joy and enthusiasm. I voted for the first time in my life, and proudly voted for my political heroes in the African National Congress. While I have been exceptionally moved by the leadership of Nelson Mandela, I also acknowledge my deep regard for people such as Steve Biko, Trevor Manuel, Joe Slovo, and Kader Asmal.
Since then I have watched as the ANC has lost the great leaders of our nation. Some have moved on to retirement, while others have moved on to other roles. Now I watch with great sadness as this once great liberation movement has crumbled into a kleptocracy that closes ranks around thieves and self-serving opportunists.
As I look back over the past 20 years, my confidence in our political leadership has waned. I feel like I have gone back to the politics of my youth, where the political leadership used their office to serve their own narrow interests. I see little difference between the posturing of PW Botha and Jacob Zuma. Both claimed to have done no wrong, and used state security systems to protect themselves. For this reason I no longer vote for the ANC.
Neither do I vote for the Democratic Alliance. I cannot stomach the thought that it eagerly absorbed the voters and leadership of the National Party. Neither do I like the way Helen Zille tries to project herself as an anti-Apartheid fighter for freedom. While her work for the Black Sash is admirable, she has not lived and worked amongst the poor in a way that allows her to claim the platform as their spokesperson. This too is political opportunism.
So I voted today. I voted because the right to vote is a precious gift that was won at the cost of the energy and lives of our political heroes of the past. But today I registered my protest at the present political leadership.
I continue to be hopeful for our future. The fact is that we have a young democracy, with regular, peaceful elections and a strong system of civil accountability in the Constitutional Court and the Public Protector. I await the results of these elections with interest, happy that nothing will stay the same.