Our Vote will shape our lives and our future

With voting coming up this week, the general outcry over the state of the nation and the despair of the South African people has been made exceedingly clear. Picture: File

With voting coming up this week, the general outcry over the state of the nation and the despair of the South African people has been made exceedingly clear. Picture: File

Published May 26, 2024



On Wednesday, South Africa will host its seventh democratic elections since the breakdown of the abhorrent apartheid regime and the advent of democracy in April 1994.

These elections come at a particularly crucial time for South Africa.

Concerns about crime, unemployment and socio-economic inequalities are at an all-time high.

According to the Migration Profile Report released last year, the number of SA citizens living abroad has magnified by 82% over the last two decades, from 501 600 to nearly a million.

What is also chillingly evident, however, is the sweeping shift of support away from the African National Congress (ANC), which has had a tight grip on political power since the first democratic elections that took place 30 years ago.

In fact, as time has gone by, there has been a steady decline in political participation and voter registrations, which was especially evident during the most recent elections, where the demographic of youth (aged 18-35) refused to participate in the election process.

Many scholars and analysts were extremely critical of the youth of SA, without being cognisant of the fact that corruption has been rife and has directly contributed to the daily challenges faced by South Africans.

From a substandard education system, dilapidated infrastructure and dwindling job opportunities, to pitiful service delivery – amongst many other challenges – South Africans have grown to be exceptionally more frustrated and disheartened.

What is remarkable about these elections is the heightened participation of the demographic – particularly 27.69 million citizens – who have registered to vote just in this year’s general elections.

The number of South Africans eligible to vote has increased significantly, even as the challenges faced by people continue.

This is approximately a million more voters than the most recent 2019 elections.

In these elections, the general outcry over the state of the nation and the despair of the South African people has been made exceedingly clear.

Although there is acknowledgement of the progress that has been made since 1994, there is a strong outcry over the intentional destruction of our systems and livelihoods by those in political leadership. Corruption and economic mismanagement have eroded public confidence.

Over half of the nation is living below the poverty line. Even with the best constitution in the entire world, South Africa remains the most inequitable society on the globe.

We are now seeing a distinct change in our society, where the majority of citizens are no longer placing their allegiance in the hands of those who have historically pulverised and abused this support.

People are drowning in abject poverty.

Instead of suffering in silence, they have called for radical change, accountability and an acknowledgement of the dismissal of fundamental human rights in the governance of South Africans over the last three decades.

People are realising that politics are personal. When the electricity is disconnected, water services are suspended or transportation is interrupted in the morning, this is all a result of political corruption and economic mismanagement by those in head office.

Politics affects our lives both intricately and intrinsically. It affects our quality of life, locality, economic empowerment, career choices, health, environment and so much more.

Nearing every election, there is an immense amount of noise, often embroiled in emotional manipulation, from political parties trying to sway voters in their direction.

This is often comprised of a multitude of empty promises from political elites, backed by small insignificant items like T-shirts and pens, all to secure the political vote for another term in office.

Seemingly, our political processes have become a running joke in our context.

What is painfully obvious is the lack of voter voices in the shaping of political agendas.

Many parties spew the rhetoric that they are addressing socio-economic challenges, the lack of overall development and the perilous economic position of millions of South Africans. However, these issues are wholly disregarded by those in leadership once they secure their positions of power.

Young people have been considerably expressive of their disdain for the current government. They have been correct in accusing national leadership of intentionally mitigating education and access to information in order to keep the masses blindly following them. They have used emotional manipulation and guilt-ridden tactics, rooted in the legacy of leading South Africa into democracy in 1994.

This desperate attempt at retaining votes and citizen loyalty has reached its climax, and the overall contempt with SA leadership is indisputable.

Greed, corruption and incompetence at the highest levels have remanded SA to the back of the line in terms of development and growth.

Our challenges continue to snowball. Scores of citizens are leaving the nation for greener pastures, many of whom will never return. This is unsurprising considering that a lot of graduates are still unable to find employment – an issue that has been highlighted for years now.

Young people are still in a position where they need to make extensive sacrifices to succeed, develop and pull themselves and their families out of abject impoverishment.

There are countless conflicts still raging on, crime and lawlessness remain predominantly unmanageable, and the priorities of the government are concerningly unspecific.

Poverty is ravaging the nation, and the price of living continues to stratify. Gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) is still a heightened challenge in our context.

Accountability and transparency across most institutions are non-existent. The racial disparities and tensions that translate, not only socially, but especially economically, mean that the nation is still far away from fairness and equality in our society, and our nation’s leadership does little to meaningfully address this fact.

Ultimately, citizens are being rendered increasingly more vulnerable as the years go by. We can list the challenges of the nation all day, but they all derive down to one thing: hunger and poverty. This is where countless issues derive from – crime, dilapidated health, illiteracy at all levels, poor infrastructure, social conflicts, social deviancy, human rights abuses, homelessness and so much more.

At the end of the day, people have a responsibility to vote meaningfully and informatively. Many of those in leadership are political puppets who will say anything to retain their power and party loyalty.

Particularly as the elections draw nearer, we have seen sweeping declarations, new initiations and a plethora of reiterated empty promises. Yet, the nation is still starkly aware of the fact that load shedding will return promptly after the elections and that the elderly will continue to live off of peanuts, whilst their hard-earned retirement is retained by unknown powers.

We cannot afford to vote blindly, or emotionally, but must be critical and meticulous in this decision – one that can only be made once every five years!

In fact, 15 years ago at the national elections, one citizen, Themba Zwane of Soweto, said: “I’ve been voting since 1994 and I still don't have a house or a job. They have forgotten about us after we fought for this country instead of going to school. Now we are old and uneducated, and nobody will give us a job."

Today, this fact remains truly relatable to masses of South Africans who are still struggling to survive.

The upcoming votes will be critical to shaping a better future for all South Africans. This is a nation where the differences between rich and poor are vastly extreme. No one lives or understands the challenges of the nation like the people who live in it.

Not only do current but also future generations deserve a better chance at a brighter, more equitable future. A good decision on voting day will not only be made based on statistics and rhetoric, but it is also largely dependent on one’s intuition and gut feeling.

Regardless of the ultimate election results, May of 2024 will be a landmark moment in South African history. The citizens of South Africa have been far removed from the political and social participation that so deeply implicates them. However, it is the people of the nation that govern the nation and not the singular elites that sit on the throne of power.

As it is truthfully stated: “All kings and leaders have power that they derived from people they lead.” Without the people – the honour, privilege and responsibility of decision-making are all unachievable.

It is also vital to emphasise the struggles of millions of South Africans in the fight for democracy and a humane society for all. What would they say about the current context of South Africa?

What would Tutu, Ngoyi, Biko, Mashinini, Sobukwe, Mntwana and the innumerable more who sacrificed their lives for equality say to the Ramaphosas, Malemas and Steenhuisens of today?

Those who came before us are the true bestowals of democracy, and we need to reverently fight those who undermine and deface our freedoms and extinguish the true sentiments of our democracy. We are a nation with boundless potential and unimaginable possibilities.

Our people are talented and creative, and we need to look to those who seek to nurture our uniqueness, rather than impose their foreign ideologies. We need leadership that will nurture us as a people, rather than bolster us to enrich themselves.

It has been three entire decades since the first democratic election. There are no more excuses for what is evident and obvious in our society. Accountability and true change begin with us and our one vote.

Prolific activist Martin Luther King Jr earnestly noted that “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter".

Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender & Social Justice Activist, published weekly in the Sunday Independent, IOL (Independent Online), Global South Media Network (GSMN), Sunday Tribune and Eswatini Daily News. She is also an Andrew W. Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.

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