No magic ballot: what happens when no party deserves your vote?
The ANC's incompetence makes it very difficult to vote with my heart, but the rest of the parties are not much better
I am one of the many undecided voters in the country. My heart says vote for the party that became a fascination of our youth. The longer the ANC remained in exile, the more the mythology about the liberation movement grew in the minds of young South Africans, especially during our Bush university years. It was both scary and exhilarating being a student in 1976. When Nelson Mandela eventually was released, and we could vote for the very first time in the country of our birth, the choice of whom to vote for was easy.
Now I really do not know. The years of corruption under the current government has eaten away not only at the vital resources of the state but at the foundations of the moral economy upon which democratic governance depends. People have lost faith in our public institutions which is why we burn schools, libraries and artworks. It is partly the internalisation of violence within our very souls – we became like those we detested – but it is also the frustration that institutions do not work for the poor and the vulnerable.
But I am comfortably middle class so I do not need the government for a grant of any kind and therefore like everyone else in this position, black and white, I make my political choices from the vantage point of economic independence that results from a university education and a good job. For those struggling to survive from one day to the next, the government seems to be the source of one’s very existence through a generous system of grants, even if they screw you in the process.
In the face of the utter incompetence and corruption of the ruling party, indecision about whom to vote for says a lot about the opposition. The political posters hoisted up lamp posts do not help. Slaan Terug (Hit Back) by one party is sickeningly suggestive but also revealing of its ideological roots in supporting the violent apartheid state. Stop the ANC + EFF is a smart and devious scare tactic among whites and coloureds in the Western Cape, for those placards will be read as intended (enough said). Neither of these posters tell me what I am voting for, only what I should lash out against or be scared about.
I would love to vote for a party that convinces the public how it would provide high-quality preschool education to every child; not on paper but in reality. I would support a party that turned around corruption within the state and acted swiftly to put the most senior politicians in prison and not only the pawns at the lower end of the feeding chain. My vote would go to a party that had a policy welcoming African immigrants from across the continent. And I would definitely put my cross next to the name of a party whose platform prioritised growing the economy, turning shacks into decent housing, and offering special visas to technology entrepreneurs from around the world. Things like that.What about the DA? They pick up my garbage on time. The streets are spotless from Stellenbosch to Swellendam. For a comfortably middle-class person, this tourist capital of SA is not a bad place to live. In case you did not notice, the official opposition reminds you regularly of the city’s clean audit reports. Nice, except every day I drive past the ever-expanding shacks of Khayelitsha with the stench of raw sewage infiltrating the car’s air ducts, after which I pass Lavender Hill where scores of young men with tattoos hang around aimlessly as they pass time alternating between Pollsmoor prison and the dour Flats. This is the darker (sic) side of Cape Town and until the DA’s development strategy can account for the quality of life of every citizen of the province, it is hard to vote only for clean streets and the Camps Bay beach.
The other parties inspire even less confidence. The EFF is led by master tacticians but no serious analyst believes that the land will simply shift hands from whites to blacks in this constitutional democracy – let alone without compensation. More than that, the racist rhetoric scares me even as the populist politics appeals to the poor and the desperate for whom the red berets seem to offer instant salvation.
Now what? I could stay at home and not vote, but that just feels wrong. We waited so long to have this right to vote and it is important to register one’s choices in a democracy. But whom to vote for? I really have no idea, but it is likely that I would split my vote between national and provincial options.