Dashiki Dialogues: Surely democracy’s more than a vote

2014-05-13 10:00

I felt a deep vulnerability creep over me immediately after voting in the general elections last week. This sacred and perhaps most central tenet of our democratic experiment is often described as an act of people’s power.

Voting is meant to equalise pauper and president, prisoner and police, as one and same under the law of the land. But exercising my right to vote didn’t result in any sense of power.

Instead, I felt exposed like a person in danger. It felt like I had just given away my only power to dubious strangers. I worried that having finally given them my vote, politicians would no longer have reason to pretend to care for my opinion – for another five years at least.

This can’t be. I demand more from the process and from myself. There must be more ways to ensure I get a good return on my investment as a voter. This is the only way to get out of this slump.

We have to take on a more active form of citizenship. Voting should only be the beginning. Otherwise, the sweet ring of our democratic imagination, the phrase that opens the preamble to our Constitution – “We, the people?...” – will become meaningless.

As you read this, President Jacob Zuma is likely to be doing an “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” over which wife will stand by him at the inauguration later this month.

The story of the next five years surely can’t be the same as the previous five years.

If not because I believe so, at least for a security guard who called in to a radio talk show on election day.

His name was Themba and he was employed to guard the gates of a factory in Roslyn, north of Tshwane.

Themba lamented the fact that it was impossible for him to vote, even though he really wanted to. He works a 12-hour shift, beginning at 6am, an hour before the polling stations opened. He was due to knock off at 6pm, then would have to catch a train to central Pretoria, where he would connect with another one headed towards Joburg.

He would then get off at Oakmoor station and connect with another train to Tembisa station, the closest train station to where he lives.

From there, he would have to walk 45?minutes to get to his home. This whole convoluted trip ensured he would not make it to a polling station by 9pm.

He couldn’t get the day off without his labour broker deducting money from his pay. And so, exploitative capital succeeds in excluding our dialogue from a democratic dashiki.

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