Some still undecided RANJENI MUNUSAMY

2016-08-02 06:00

WITH days to go until South Africa­’s fifth local-government elections, it is worrying that many people are still undecided about who to vote for or whether to vote at all.

The situation in other parts of the world, particularly the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s terrifying rise in the United States, shows the dangers of being too complacent about democracy or making the wrong choice based on rhetoric.

A few months ago, I was on a judging panel for a political debate among teams of high-school pupils.

The teams had to make up manifestos for fictitious political parties and debate with each other on their respective ideological and policy positions.

I was amazed at the knowledge and political maturity in the room as they presented their arguments.

Over lunch, however, I was astounded that some of the pupils said they would not be voting in the municipal elections, even though it would be their first opportunity to cast their ballots.

One pupil said she did not think her vote would make a difference and felt that most party leaders make false commitments on the campaign trail.

Of course, it is true that politicians should not be trusted based on what they say on the stump and it is easy to feel insignificant when you are one in 26 million potential voters.

What worried me was that the young woman was so excited about engaging in a political debate based on fictitious parties and policies, yet she did not want to participate in a real-life process that could impact on her future.

Unfortunately, she is not alone.

People calling in to a Johannesburg radio talk show this week said they are disillusioned and feel that none of the parties contesting the elections represents them adequately.

One caller suggested that in future, ballot papers should have a box for “none of the above” so that disillusioned people could still participate in the elections but make it known that they do not support any of the parties.

This is a better option than staying away from the polls altogether, the radio caller said.

When you hear the amount of rhetoric and false promises on the campaign trail, it is easy to become apathetic.

Many of the political leaders who have been zooming in and out of communities over the past few months hunting for votes, have done little to improve the state of the country while in the positions in which they serve.

If anything, they make it worse.

It is incredible that they make commitments about good governance and the accountability of councillors when they do not practise what they preach.

It is particularly exasperating that after interacting with communities and listening to people’s frustrations with poor service delivery, crime, drug abuse, the lack of jobs and inhumane living conditions, these politicians will disappear into their ivory towers after the elections and forget all that they heard.

But does this justify not voting?

It should not.

Our democracy will be strengthened when we develop a society where people make informed choices about their elected representatives and are not swayed by rhetoric and election gimmicks.

Our responsibility as voters does not end on election day.

We need to remain engaged in what happens in our communities and local councils to ensure that those who are elected are held to account for their actions and commitments.

This election has more parties than before, so voters have many choices, including independent candidates.

It is important to be familiar with who the ward candidates are as it will be those people and not the national leaders who will be making decisions that will directly affect our lives.

I advised the disillusioned pupil that if none of the parties fully represents her views, she should choose the least objectionable one.

I am crossing my fingers that she will be in the queue on Wednesday.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick­.

• ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

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