Why I think Vote No is a no-go

2014-04-21 10:00

April 27 is and will remain an important day for all South Africans for a long time to come. Generation after generation will be taught how this day brought freedom for all.

After all, it was on this day 20 years ago when South Africans formed snaking queues to cast their vote to choose who would lead the country.

Who would have missed a chance to be part of history in the making? Well, as long as you had a valid South African identity document and were aged 18 or older.

I was in my matric year in Matsulu, under the then KaNgwane homeland government east of Nelspruit in the then Eastern Transvaal. Actually, I was 17 years, 11 months and three days old. Much simpler, I was a mere 28 days short of reaching the official voting age of 18.

Faced with the fact that I could not cast the vote, while my peers who were born in the same year but before April could, I figured that this would not happen. I couldn’t stand the humiliation of not having voted.

Days before, my friends were teasing some of us about how voting for the first time would ensure that they joined the ranks of adulthood. They joked that children were not allowed to do stuff that adults do?–?like voting.

Who wanted to be left out? Clearly not me?–?28 was just the number of days that made me shy of being 18, but in my mind, I was 18 and ready. No one could do anything to prevent me from doing what was right for my country.

Come voting day, my friends and I devised a strategy to ensure that all of us would become part of this history. We vowed that none of us would be left out?–?not marginally by a few days and months.

We agreed that as friends, we would all go at the same time and queue together. But this was to be in the afternoon, when the electoral staff were tired and not paying much attention to the details on ID books. The other point was that we would mix ourselves – those who were already 18 and those who fell outside the threshold – just to confuse the staffers.

As it turned out, when we reached the entrance of the community hall, our strategy worked and we were allowed to cast our votes?–?all of us. While we celebrated how we had duped the officials through our clever strategy, in retrospect we really hadn’t. We were allowed to cast our votes because every vote mattered in 1994.

The system was also not as stringent as it is today. The officials checked if we had a valid ID book and if we were born in 1976 or earlier?–?that’s what mattered most.

A few days or a couple of months really didn’t matter. The effort my friends and I had made to ensure that we had made our mark two decades ago came to the fore this week as the Vote No campaign was launched by struggle stalwart Ronnie Kasrils.

While it calls on ANC members to exercise their right not to vote, it also offers an alternative for those who do not want to spoil their ballots to vote for smaller parties.

The campaign has had a mixed reaction. While many disagree with spoiling the votes, many others feel it is the right thing to do to show the ANC that real power lies with the people.

I disagree with the spoiling of votes. I look back at 20 years of a democratic South Africa and feel that spoiling my vote will not bring positive change to the country.

Back then, my pals and I put on our thinking caps to see how we could beat the system to vote. The energy that went into this cannot be wasted 20 years later by spoiling our votes.

South Africa has had many positive gains in the past 20 years?–?and the ANC has been drumming this into our ears every day.

There is no denying that much has been achieved since 1994. Houses have been built for the poor, water supplied, homes electrified, pension and social grants paid to those in need, and a booming middle class has been created.

While these achievements are welcome, we cannot ignore the realities of the day. We have many other wrong things happening too. There is Nkandla and we have the SABC – an institution we should all be proud of – falling apart due to political interference.

Corruption seems to be tolerated by the government and those accused of stealing public funds from one institution are simply moved to other areas, only to continue with their deeds.

South Africans are not happy about the lack of accountability by the government. We cannot sit back and allow this to continue to happen.

Spoiling our votes is not a choice?–?at least for me. The ballot paper has several parties and individuals who need our votes. Some may not be key political players yet, but they have policies to take the country forward.

I look at the sacrifices Kasrils and others have made to liberate South Africa. Their efforts, and those we devised as a bunch of 18-year-olds (not all of us were) in 1994, will have been in vain if we do not vote.

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