How I exercise my X – I vote for more than potholes and streetlights, I vote for my scar tissue too

2011-03-26 07:29

The DA’s mayoral candidate for Johannesburg Mmusi Maimane simplifies it nicely.

Voters are presented with a “tale of two cities” (Johannesburg and Cape Town), of which they must choose one.

If we choose Johannesburg (read ANC), we choose the billing chaos, potholes and infrastructure decay.

If we choose Cape Town, we choose a clean, well-run city that is the envy of local and foreign visitors.

From this perspective alone, it is a ­no-brainer.

The DA presents a better prospect for Johannesburg than the ANC.

It is no great wonder that the official opposition wants the local elections to be based on “issues” rather than race.

It is disingenuous to think that “race” is a side issue. Race, along with class, is to this day a predictor of life opportunities.

If we do get a cleaner and more efficient Johannesburg, it will not be the first time. We have been there before but such a Johannesburg was never mine, regardless of being born and raised there – just like many black people in Cape Town who still do not own their well-run city.

I doubt whether those black, working-class people for whom the DA built open-air toilets are as proud of their Cape Town as us outsiders are envious.

If I vote, it would be for more than which candidate I can trust to ensure that potholes in my neighbourhood are filled and that streetlights work.

Such a candidate will obviously be preferable to some charlatan who comes mouthing slogans and platitudes appealing to nothing more than my blackness.

Voting is more than a civic duty, it is an act of never forgetting where South Africa comes from. With each stroke of the pen, I reconcile my dreams and my nightmares.

I vote taking into account the humiliation of my father’s generation and my son’s aspirations.

I vote for the memory of a generation of men who had to stomp on their own hats to show respect to the baas, and for the hopes that my children will never again be bulldozed into accepting the falsehood that their god is lesser.

I vote for the memory of all the men I knew who never returned home from work at night because they had forgotten to transfer their “dompas” from one jacket to another and were thus saddled with Hobson’s choice of 30 days or R30 – to spend 30 days in jail or pay a fine of R30 – a significant portion of a working-class family’s budget.

Alone in that voting booth, I shut out the noise and intellectual bullying of the chattering class that would rather I forgot the evils of white racism which caused people to end up in jail for ridiculous “crimes” such as “staan en kyk” (standing and looking); meaning that in the opinion of the arresting officer, the native was looking at white property or women in a manner that suggested he was plotting something deviant.

So while I cannot argue that Cape Town is run much more efficiently than Johannesburg, I cannot help notice that the man who represents the party most likely to replicate Cape Town’s success story in my ward, looks strikingly like an older version of that man who, in a South African Defence Force uniform, occupied my school and thought nothing of pushing the barrel of an R1 rifle onto my 14-year-old chest.

Until the day when my memory of the past is treated with the same respect as I know they treat those that suffered the Holocaust, I am afraid that the DA’s undoubted and impressive track record will still not be enough.

I am not fooled by the platitudes of convenient revolutionaries, who speak the language of the poor between gluttonous scoops of caviar and sips of expensive whisky while their designer belt buckles struggle to push back their ever swelling bellies.

But still, that will not assuage my feelings of guilt for voting for a party that reduces the collective memory of the people to an irritation.

If I vote, it will not be only about the “issues”. It will be for my tissue too – the scar tissue. It may mean nothing to the chattering classes but that does not make it any less valid.

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