This editorial appears in all titles in the Independent News and Media group, to which IOL belongs.

Tomorrow, South Africa goes to the polls to elect the fifth national Parliament and provincial administrations since the dawn of democracy 20 years ago.

Despite the jaded cynicism that permeates our politics now, a national election in this country is still a momentous occasion. We are not so far removed from a past in which the vast majority of us could not exercise this most basic right of citizenship.

Of course, we no longer have the evocative imagery of the long snaking queues of 1994 (thankfully), nor the euphoria of that time. We no longer have Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others of that generation of founders, whose mere presence served for so long as a reminder of the symbolic importance of the vote for which so many fought and died. But what we do have with every passing election is a maturing democracy and the entrenchment of the dignity of citizenship that we were denied for so long.

As the polling date drew closer, some newspapers took the step of coming out to endorse one political party or the other, urging their readers to vote as they advise.

Independent News and Media, the publishers of The Star, won't presume to tell you how you should exercise your democratic right. South Africa is so diverse, and still so divided along racial, cultural, class and other fault lines, that it is in any case impossible to propose a one-size-fits-all solution to the conundrum of who you should support when your polling station opens tomorrow. Make your own determination based on your needs, aspirations, experiences and, no doubt, your identity.

But what we will implore you to do is to vote. Participate. Make a stand. Speak and be heard. It matters more than you know. Recently, some ANC malcontents have led a spirited campaign to persuade you to spoil your vote as a way of registering your unhappiness with both the ruling party and its opposition.

Spoiling your vote, and thus squandering your democratic birthright, is not a demonstration of voter power but a deliberate act of powerlessness. It is the surest way to give yourself no say in how – or by whom – you are governed. By all means let your choice be guided by your unhappiness (or contentment), but do make a choice.

Spoiling your ballot, or refusing to vote in the first place, is to silence yourself.

In politics more than anywhere else, silence is interpreted as consent.

Independent Newspapers