SA has voted – now let’s improve

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IOL elections oped leader 03 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Residents from the Motsoaledi informal settlement in Soweto arrived early to stand in long queues to cast their votes on Wednesday. Picture: Antoine de Ras

Let the pretence and all the lies of electioneering stop. Let us now be treated like citizens with brains, says Makhudu Sefara.

Johannesburg - Electioneering is over. Thank God. By now, most politicians know whether they have earned a seat in our Parliament or, more significantly, a cheque for the next five years.

Among those who will take up positions in Parliament are honourable, well-intentioned individuals who understand that to lead is to serve, and others so obtuse, they believe to lead is to be served and worshipped.

The fact that people’s careers depend on the number of votes they get creates a number of problems. Chief among these is that they make unrealistic promises, they clown, and they engage in some form of skulduggery in order to garner sufficient numbers to enable them to earn a salary.

If bumping up the number of jobs or job opportunities you can create is what can get you a foot in Parliament, then why not?

This impacts – in a negative way – on the quality of the discourse we have, here and elsewhere in the world, ahead of elections. But the elections have come and gone. Let the pretence and all the lies stop. Let us now be treated like citizens with brains.

Although always imperfect, elections are crucial for our body politic.

It was heartening to see many South Africans going out to take part in their self-governance.

The ANC’s and the DA’s performances are proof that it would be hard to beat those with working party structures. Well, incumbency also has its benefits – and challenges too.

Parties that relied, for the most part, on their leaders’ persona to woo votes face extinction. This is good for democracy. Electorates want something more than just a charming individual and a box full of promises. Patricia de Lille of the now forgotten Independent Democrats saw this coming long ago. Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the IFP remains obstinate – but the writing is on the Independent Election Commission’s board! Parties like the United Democratic Movement and African People’s Convention are on notice.

Parties like the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the Azanian People’s Organisation, with rich Struggle histories, continue to struggle for relevance. They might be dismissive of Julius Malema and perhaps use highfalutin language to dismiss his Economic Freedom Fighters. But they have quite a number of lessons to learn from him. South Africans – in their thousands – have said they would rather vote for Malema without a Struggle history, owing to his age, and in spite of his dodgy tax record, than vote for them.

This is telling.

As I arrived at the Melville Union Church to cast my vote, I found the IEC officials very competent, knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. This is a sample of one in 25 million. It literally took me five minutes to vote.

This included my chitchats about queues and asking a woman, whose name I did not write down, whether she felt a sense of accomplishment after voting. She said: “I don’t know, man. I am not sure. I am just hoping for the best, hey.”

But therein lay our collective yearning.

We yearn for human progress. We vote and pray that things work out. Those who live in squalor in Zandspruit and Alexandra hope that, the next time they vote, much around them would have changed. Those who toil their lives away in the mines and farms voted hoping a day of salvation will come. The march towards the eradication of inequality will gain traction. The villagers in Senwabarwana, the hustlers in Tembisa, street-sellers in Seshego, and the unemployed in Khayelitsha and Diepsloot yearn for the fruits of liberation.

By voting, they became drivers of our collective destination.

We vote not for its sake but because we are full of hope. We hope that whoever we vote for will ensure that our collective being is taken care of. The fellow voter I ran into may have been hoping for the best for her party, but all of us are hoping for the best for our country, for humanity, for a change in the human condition.

Our votes are linked to the kind of country we seek to build. A country where, hopefully, Boko Haram’s intermittent bombings, as seen in Nigeria, are never allowed space to breathe. A country where the wanton kidnapping of girls is not a lived reality.

Where Nigeria surpasses us to become the biggest economy on the continent, we must congratulate them – and promptly return to the drawing table.

That starts with voting as we just did – and then the implementation of programmes that will catapult our nation to dizzying heights of progress. If we reclaim the top spot again, well, fine. If another African country claims the spot – great.

But it all starts with the ballot. The next is monitoring how politicians use the mandate – and the money – we have entrusted them with.

It is clear to me that the DA could have performed better had it truly embraced transformation, and that the ANC could have done better had it been a bit less circumspect in dealing with accountability. Though their flaws balance each other out, they are not ideal.

We know they will soon retreat to Parliament. They will drape themselves in beguiling garbs and funny hats at the opening of the new Parliament. They will increasingly begin to think that the electorate, or their issues, must wait until the next election. The poor, they will say quietly to themselves, will always be with us!

To ensure human progress in the plains of Parys, the hills of Majuba and the townships like Galeshewe, we must all pay attention to what politicians do with the mandate we collectively gave them this week. Our destiny, regardless of the disparate parties we voted for, is inextricably linked. Trying to catch up with what politicians have done with our mandate and money three months before an election isn’t a proper investment in our own progress.

As Martin Luther King Jr would put it, “human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable”. Voting is but the start of that journey to ensure that we leave for posterity a better country for future generations.

Well done, South Africa – but continue to keep your eyes open to ensure progress. If we don’t, we reduce voting to paycheque endorsements for obtuse, sleepy, self-serving lords.

* Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star. Follow him on Twitter @Sefara_Mak

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