Anti-Brexit protesters are seen near the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: Reuters
Anti-Brexit protesters are seen near the Houses of Parliament in London. Photo: Reuters

Beware Brexit ... find the facts before voting

By Meyer Benjamin Time of article published May 6, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – In just a few short days from now you’ll wield a nation-changing weapon as potent and powerful as any forged in an armaments factory.

A weapon that can alter and shape the course of this great nation.

A weapon that – as with all things potent and powerful – must be used with great responsibility, foresight, and indeed caution, and in exercising it we need look to our former colonial overlords, more of which in a minute.

Now, “with great power comes great responsibility”. So goes the quote – widely attributed to a Spiderman movie, of all things, but arguably tracing its roots back to Voltaire and the French Revolution.

And speaking of revolutions, our 2019 elections here in South Africa see this great land if not quite at pre-revolutionary stage then, well, teetering pretty close to the brink.

A recital of national discontent hardly bears decanting here.

From a catastrophic unemployment rate (officially just more than 27 percent, but in reality far higher say some pundits) to ever-plummeting living standards to the fire and the fury of now daily “protest marches”, the germs are there.

And I sometimes think social media and the proliferation and democratisation of smartphones are perhaps if partly attributable to this. Especially with the likes of Facebook and Instagram sowing seeds of discontent as they make the vast inequality in South Africa so very apparent to all and sundry.

More topically, as Mzansi teeters on a knife-edge, these are undoubtedly the most important elections since 1994. And while it’s almost a given that the ANC will sweep to victory - albeit with a lesser majority - the exact vote that the DA and the EFF garners, respectively, is what’s crucial here.

Poll predictions vary - depending on which on polls.

The influential SA Institute of Race Relations (IRR), for one, has just released findings saying that the ANC will take 51 percent of the national vote (compared to 62.15 percent in 2014), the DA some 24 percent, and the EFF some 14 percent - or over double what it did in the last elections.

These polls are based on a turnout of 71.9 percent, with voter apathy being especially prevalent in the upcoming elections. But I’m not here to speculate on election results - and as we all know polls can be shockingly, staggeringly, seismically unreliable.

The DA’s own polling, predictably, predicts a more optimistic result for that party, but former DA leader and later ambassador to Argentina, Tony Leon, says that the elections are far from a done deal.

“The deal is not yet settled. When I was the leader of the DA, you more or less knew the results of the polls on the day and it didn’t change very much,” says Leon.

“I think there is a lot more dynamism now, which is good for democracy, and for multi-party results, and it probably gives the parties sleepless nights because they can’t bank on anything.”


And speaking of shifting sands and wildly unpredictable results, Leon references the Donald Trump presidential victory and Brexit - both of which stunned the world, and made a mockery of any predictions.

In fact, when Trump first threw his hat into the presidential elections ring amidst some uproarious laughter, legend has it that certain bookies were offering odds of 100-to-1 against him.

Still others said he entered the elections merely as a marketing gambit for his assorted enterprises, and that when he actually won the presidency he was rather like the proverbial dog catching a car.

And that takes us to Brexit. When the “Leave” voters triumphed by 51.9 percent for a British Exit (Brexit) from the European Union on June 23, 2016, great was the global shock, while the fallout was borderline atomic.

The sterling almost immediately plummeted to its lowest level to the dollar in three decades, while Prime Minister David Cameron - who actually called the referendum, rosily confident of a “Remain” vote - resigned the next day.

Wrangling and wriggling over the exact terms and conditions of Brexit remains Byzantine.

And more than 5 million people signed a “cancel Brexit” petition on the Parliament website, while great were the calls for a second referendum. And why am I referencing something that took place on a small, wet island some 10 000km away from this sprawling, sunny, often splintered nation of ours?

Simply because it’s increasingly apparent that as “Brexit regret” grows, many of those “Leave” voters perhaps made their mark instinctively and automatically - without considering the ramifications of their vote. Without first marshalling the facts.

So as on May 8 you join the estimated 26.75 million voters in wielding that most powerful of weapons, first consider things carefully and cautiously before making your mark for one of the 48 political parties contesting the elections.

Your vote will dictate this country’s trajectory more than any other single factor.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings...

Meyer Benjamin, a car industry veteran and commentator, is the director of the IPOP (In People Our Passion) Motor Group, which includes four Suzuki dealerships, a Mazda dealership, a Haval dealership, and six used-car outlets. He is also actively involved in the upliftment, improvement, and betterment of Rosettenville Johannesburg, where IPOP is headquartered.


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