Grade 12 pupil Mpulukeng Ndiliso presents her ID to IEC official Brenda Yalezo during the commissions visit to a school in Cape Town. Voting is about having a say in your own governance, says the writer. Picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

The candidates may not be ideal, but do go out and vote for whoever comes close to rocking your boat. It’s your civic duty, says Makhudu Sefara.

Johannesburg - IN five days, South Africans will go out in their numbers, as they should, to vote for the political leadership of their choice.

Just over 25.3 million South Africans have registered to vote. Many of them, however, might not turn up – for the wrong reasons.

Many have asked: what is the point of voting if you know your singular vote is unlikely to impact the behemoth that is our number-churning electoral machine?

In 2009, about 5.2 million of the total of 23.1 million registered to vote did not. And about 239 000 national ballots were spoiled.

There are many things that unhinge the voting public. The putsch in Marikana that led to the savage killing of miners and police officers; the economic issues that gave rise to this tragedy; the failure of black economic empowerment to eradicate, much less tinker with, the inequality that is democratic South Africa’s terrible eyesore.

The parties vying for your votes eschew difficult subjects such as our race demons and the need for accountability.

Generally, we are uncomfortable dealing with issues of race and where we come from: our dark racist past. Instead of dealing with inveterate prejudices, we retreat to our cocoons and, in hushed but caustic tones, speak about “them” and “us” and how only we have it bad.

Black people will talk about a lack of transformation and how corporate South Africa remains a dangerous jungle for them to survive. They will “skinner” about mean, conniving and hateful bosses. White people will talk about how quotas and race-based policies were suffocating them and denying their children a shot at a good life.

As Chris Rock would put it, if you are “not winning, who is, cos it ain’t us? Wanna trade races?”

Well, when we are supposed to engage our politicians during election time, we allow them to use saccharine sentimentalism to appeal to our loyalties. We avoid honest but difficult conversations. We descend to rallies for the spectacle they are.

The key battle though must happen in our own hearts and minds – not at town hall meetings and rallies. Those are for beguiling rhetoric and cute turns of phrase. Rallies are for politicians to show us how nimble-footed they are. But that is hardly what is needed to safeguard or propel our country forward.

As we go into this election, each one of us must ask ourselves the question and answer it honestly: who should I vote for in order to strengthen the gains of the last 20 years?

For me, the obvious truth is this: much has been achieved in the past 20 years, much less in the past five. But much more still needs to be done.

It’s not so much who wins by what margin, it is whether the election reflects the view of most South Africans. If you do not vote, or spoil your vote, you are truly a spoilsport. You are unhelpful. Voting’s about having a say in your own governance. Your party may not win, but that does not negate the need for voting. To choose not to vote, or spoil your vote, is to dishonour the course of freedom.

Many, in myriad struggles around the globe, lost their lives for this. This freedom was not free. Freedom anywhere is fought for – at great cost – not for the free to sit idly by and pee on that memory, as Ronnie Kasrils and company seek to.

We need to remember Goree Island in Senegal. Remember the slaves in the US. If your memory is a bit hazy, go back and watch the movie 12 Years a Slave or Django Unchained. Recall Chimurenga, upwards of the great Limpopo River. Remember too how the yearning of freedom, the battle against tyranny led to the storming of the Bastille. Remember Kwame Nkrumah, Kenneth Kaunda, Julius Nyerere’s battles for the vote.

Remember too that many South Africans remain buried in Lusaka and other foreign lands as they vanished attempting to bring us this freedom we seek to dishonour by not voting.

Whatever you do, whoever you believe in, whatever your party, however imperfect the candidates, it is your civic duty to partake in our collective self-government.

Yes, you may accuse me of civic sentimentalism. Or of elevating the anodyne, or esoteric, to respected practicalities of freedom.

You may indeed look to Jason Brennan who, in The Ethics of Voting, says voting, for its sake, is romanticised.

The key thing, he says, isn’t that one has voted, it is the quality of that vote.

If you vote, but have not bothered to check the policies of political parties vying for your vote, does that enrich the democratic process or inhibit it?

For Brennan, these bad voters have a civic duty to not vote.

But it is this kind of thinking that helped deny the majority of people here their universal suffrage.

Voting, if we become coldly logical, is about decision-making. And if it is true that making decisions based on limited or no real information is dangerous and could be very costly, can we also not concede that voting without access to good information, however understood, could imperil democracy? Brennan is interesting…

He, however, is wrong for a number of reasons.

Mainly, we all consume information and news from various quarters.

It would be hard to determine who has adequately informed themselves to qualify to vote. And even if this was an individual decision, what yardstick do potential bad voters use to make a determination to vote or not to vote? Or is it just left to one’s conscience? Any policy proposition that is unimplementable, as is this, is worth discarding.

So, in this election, those who constantly apprise themselves of current affairs might feel a bit agitated with e-tolls, Nkandla, the Guptagate, the DA’s race flip-flops and many issues to a point they think these are what this election ought to be decided on. Others might feel differently. That’s what democracy is about. There is no one truth about voting, spoiling your vote or bad votes about which Brennan wrote.

Creating no-go zones in North West for the ANC is as wrong as booing Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s memorial.

The responsible thing to do is not to sit at home and suck your thumbs, or pretend the movie you will be watching couldn’t be watched on another day or that that braai is more important than voting.

The candidates may not be ideal. But do go out and vote for the ANC, DA, EFF, Azapo or whoever comes close to rocking your boat. It’s your civic duty.

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

The Star