When voting, be guided by your conscience

Ideas

When voting, be guided by your conscience

When casting a vote, we must listen to our inner selves and apply our minds to decide what is best for SA at large

Ebrahim I Bham
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa photogaphed holding a child wearing an ANC T-shirt during his campaign at Intabazwe Community Stadium in Maluti A Phofung in the Free State last Sunday.
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa photogaphed holding a child wearing an ANC T-shirt during his campaign at Intabazwe Community Stadium in Maluti A Phofung in the Free State last Sunday.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

Every election cycle, we urge South Africans to exercise their right to vote for political leaders who can be trusted with the responsibility of serving them.

The season is under way. To reach us, candidates and political party leaders are braving the open effluence in the alleys of squalid settlements. They are knocking at our doors to persuade us to vote for them. When you open the door and recognise them, they greet with familiarity and suspiciously rehearsed exuberance. They quickly restate their case as to why they deserve your vote.

You wonder whether the campaigners would have taken the trouble, four short months ago, to pay you a visit, sans elections. When you remind them of what has (not) gone by in their previous pledges and promises, they look contrite and seem to have acquired that rare heeding trait. They are prayerful for third chances.

Paying attention to the electioneering messages, it is natural to wonder what real and viable options there are. As a matter of perspective, you are not sure why this time around it will be different.

Though the Constitutional Court ruling of June 11 2020 was about accommodating independent candidates at provincial and national elections, it underscores the value and import of independent candidates, who have been standing in municipal elections since 2000. The ruling states: “Being coerced to form or join a political party is an issue that may fundamentally touch one’s inner core; a matter that goes to one’s conscience.” (Case CCT 110/19; para [52])

This landmark ruling not only underscored the importance of one’s conscience as a candidate but also entrenched the choices we wield as voters. It should also be a matter of conscience that we are not apathetic. Voting remains a big deal because our vote will decide the composition of the next councils that will run our municipalities, past the polls on November 1 2021.

Lives, honour and dignity are at stake in our country. We cannot sustain pendulum swings of experimentation with (re)arrangement of governing councils that only guarantee instability that goes with horse-trading in the council chambers and in caucus break-away rooms. At the same time, neither can we be so destructively drastic by throwing away the baby with the bathwater.

Further beyond the dilemma, however, we can only be certain that we want our ward representatives to be approachable, listening and responsive to our needs. They should be individuals whose starting point is a commitment to non-negotiable minimum levels of service.

The bar is set too low when we continue to cry for “service delivery”, referring to potholes in the roads, uncollected refuse, blocked drains, raw sewage running out on the open streets and burst pipes that gush and waste precious clean water for weeks on end.

Our chosen councillors should be individuals who will enforce the performance agreements of municipal management officials. These councillors will check the conduct of officers that let themselves get embroiled in party politics, instead of rendering their professional service to the citizens. As a matter of maintenance of minimum standards, all such services, which are usually budgeted for, if not billable, should be in working order across the country, whether in district municipalities or metros.

A prophetic tradition of Muhammad (peace be upon him) goes: “The leader of the people on a journey is their servant …” As servant leaders, we need councillors who will give expression to the needs of their communities, demanding and embodying accountability and not turning into interlocutors, proffering excuses for ever-deteriorating municipal services.

We want councillors who have demonstrable records of service within their communities. They should be those individuals who identify with the aspirations of the residents of their respective wards. Such councillors will be developmentally-conscious and champion initiatives and projects born out of the spirit and substance of public participation and community engagement.

We take voting as a means towards the fulfilment of a sacred duty. The Almighty describes the believers: “You enjoin what is right and forbid what is vicious, and you believe in God” (The Noble Quran 3:110). Giving an individual one’s vote is to give much. It is akin to vouching for the candidate at a level of divine testimony. From whoever is given much, a commensurate return will be expected.

Perceptions of corruption, opportunism and tendencies towards selfish careerism are anathema to notions of good governance. It is up to the candidates who will emerge successful in the municipal elections to arrest the trend of waning trust in our public officials. It should also remain up to us to remain engaged and not remain silent in the face of poor governance and maladministration.

The witticism that is called “Einstein insanity” goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” For far too long, we have tried the same approach, expecting different outcomes. At the same time, to be indifferent towards suffrage and the vote others sacrificed their lives for, is perhaps a betrayal of their memory.

We should therefore still go to the ballot box. but vote with the level of discretion that is informed by listening to our inner selves and applying our minds to what is best for our nation at large, starting with our immediate locality. Participating in the municipal elections gives us the opportunity to make that expression of conscience, at the level that is closest to our immediate lives, homes, neighbourhoods and the environment.

Moulana Ebrahim I Bham is the secretary general of the Council of Muslim Theologians [Jamiatul Ulama SA], established in 1923 as Jamiatul Ulama Transvaal. He is also the imam of one of the largest Muslim congregations in SA at Hamidia Masjid in Newtown.

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