I confess that as I stood alone in that voting station, I became apoplectic with fear, says Malaika Wa Azania.
Johannesburg - For many South Africans, Wednesday was a voting day like many other in years before it – a day on which long-determined party loyalties were being affirmed.
But for me, the day signalled the beginning of a new journey and the logical conclusion to difficult questions that have haunted my mind for a while.
It was the day I cast my very first vote for a party of my choice.
Deciding whom to vote for is not as easy as projected, or at least it ought not to be. It is a decision that must be informed by more than just one’s sentimental attachment to the history of an organisation.
Don’t misunderstand me; I am not insinuating that our history is not a factor in determining whom we ought to vote for.
I am saying our history is fundamental not only just in determining where our loyalties ought to lie, but more importantly, in determining who is most fit to defend the gains of our struggle.
It is not enough to be a former national liberation movement. An organisation must also be a beacon of hope for liberation not yet completely attained.
A vote must be informed by more than just which party has the catchiest slogan or the most fashionable regalia.
It is a decision that is informed by a deep understanding of the prevailing material conditions that will inevitably shape the posture of the country one so dearly loves.
When one puts an X on a ballot paper, one is not just adding numbers for a particular party.
One is putting to paper their aspirations for a future they believe they deserve.
One is speaking not just for oneself but also for the future generations that will have to live with the consequences of choices made by those who came before them.
It was with this burden of thought that I woke up on wintry Wednesday morning and prepared to cast my vote at the Drama Department of Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape where I temporarily reside until completion of my Geosciences degree.
I had intended to vote early in the morning, but was discouraged by the lengthy queues.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by the voter turn-out at an institution characterised by political inactivity.
It corroborated my long-held argument that contrary to popular belief, the youth in general and so-called born-frees in particular, though largely non-partisan, are not apolitical.
I decided to wait a few more hours before finally taking a walk to remember through the leafy streets of Grahamstown to the voting station. I was listening to Miriam Makeba's Thina Sizwe on my earphones and quietly singing along to her lyrics:
Bakhalela izwe labo
Mabayeke umhlaba wethu!”
Those poignant lyrics tell a story not only about apartheid South Africa, but also about our country as it enters the second decade of a democratic dispensation.
It is a song that speaks to our struggle of memory against forgetting and also, of the long walk that lies ahead, a walk that begins with the vote I was about to cast.
Walking into the voting station, I was overcome by a feeling of nostalgic gratitude for the many who perished to ensure I would enjoy such a privilege.
I know too well that gallons of blood had to be shed for me to stand before that blue and white voting station, to be rendered human enough to decide for myself who I wanted to be governed by.
I would be a liar if I did not confess that as I stood alone in that voting station and opened the ballot papers handed to me by an official, I became apoplectic with fear.
I looked at the faces of the party representatives on those provincial and national ballot papers. I thought about what each of those faces represented.
I knew my X would affirm not just my faith in the capacity of their leadership, but in the capacity of the very organisations they led.
I knew I was not voting for a perfect leader or a perfect party, for such has never existed.
As a friend reminded me a few days before, political organisations by their very nature are imperfect.
One votes not for perfection, but for the party most capable and willing to effect change.
I put my X across both ballots, for the same party.
I put my faith in the hands of an organisation whose principles I know I will be able to defend to my children some day.
But I did not do so blindly; I did so with the knowledge that democracy is not defined by voting alone.
I did so with the full understanding that it is what happens after I have cast my vote that will determine the true magnitude and nature of democracy.
After all, votes only allow a party to hold political office, and thus place it in a better position to influence political and economic change.
But votes are not a guarantee that change will be effected beyond the narrow interests of politicians as individuals.
Placed in the hands of a capable party, votes have the potential to accelerate progress.
But placed in the hands of a party without the political will to annihilate constructs that give birth to bondage, votes can effectively accelerate regress.
The real work for politicians and activists began on Thursday.
It is work that will ensure the gains of our democracy are not only defended, but that democracy itself translates to a change in the lives of the ordinary masses of our people.
I can only trust that the vote I cast will be used not as a statistic and a superficial measure of democracy, but as a weapon to fight landlessness, unemployment, poverty and all manifestations of structural inequalities that continue to gnaw and define the nervous conditions of black people; to remove them from this path of defeatism and hopelessness, a path to which no one should ever have to be condemned.
I hope to someday, when I am not confined by word limits, give a deeper analysis into these issues.
I trust that with my X, I gave the party of my choice an opportunity to communicate to my generation and the ones not yet born: that Africa’s cause will triumph!
* Malaika Wa Azania is a second-year student at Rhodes University and the author of the upcoming book Memoirs of a Born Free: reflections on the Rainbow Nation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.