Why you should spoil your ballot next year

2013-09-02 10:00

A teacher bundled me into her beat-up Toyota Corolla and drove me home the morning our school closed suddenly in March 1994.

It was the pre-cellphone era, so the school couldn’t reach my parents.

Rumour had it that armed forces were descending and Mmabatho was on the verge of becoming a front for a late-stage apartheid war.

For weeks, there had been protests and talk that Bantustan president Lucas Mangope was in feverish negotiations to hold on to his facade of power by keeping Bophuthatswana from joining a democratic South Africa at whatever cost.

On the drive home, I noticed the streets were empty.

This was normal for mid-morning in a small town, but that day there was a metaphysical differential between the stillness and coming noise.

By the end of that month, the Bophuthatswana Defence Force had overthrown Mangope briefly, rioters looted and burnt down the Mega City shopping mall, and three AWB foot soldiers were shot dead while TV cameras were rolling after their right wing organisation had run amock and terrorised the town’s residents.

The following month, my parents voted for the first time in their lives, not because they’d never had an interest, but because racist laws had barred them from the voting booth.

For weeks after, they showed each other, and us, their kids, that the ink on their thumbnails did not rub off easily.

It was a symbol of the power they had attained – the power to have a say in how this country is governed.

But the ink did rub off eventually, as did their power and that of most South Africans to have an equal say, if such a power ever truly existed.

Unbeknown to most of us, this country remains a de facto oligarchy, where a tiny number of votes count way more than the rest, and government is by the will of a handful of political and economic elites.

So voting, despite how well-funded and promoted it is, is probably the least effective way to participate in this democracy.

This is why I will spoil my ballot in protest during next year’s general election and direct my efforts towards democratic participation in other ways.

If you have any sense, you will do the same.

People I’ve mentioned this to react in shock.

They say it counts for nothing as the Independent Electoral Commission will chalk the spoiled ballot up to voter ignorance on my part.

Others think I lose my right to complain or that it’s sacrilege – that I’m pissing on the memory of those who bled and died so that I could vote.

But the mechanistic act of putting a cross on a ballot isn’t what people died for.

They died in part for the right of each of us to have an equal say.

At present, owing to arrangements in how political parties are funded, we don’t all have an equal say.

Instead, as the Marikana massacre showed, powerful business and foreign interests have the ears of our politicians, and effective control of the police service we elect politicians to oversee.

The arms deal showed us that acquisitions of goods and services by the state become a fetid feeding trough, where business interests lobby by hook and by crook to influence government decisions.

And our political parties accept millions from sources unknown and use this to lure us into the voting booth with vacuous promises that they will represent us equally.

Next year alone, they will collectively spend as much as R800?million on electioneering.

Just more than R100?million of this comes from us, the citizens, and the rest from their puppet masters lurking in the shadows.

In this way, political parties and politicians of today are like the Bantustan presidents of old in that they are a front for minority rule.

Most parties and politicians accept that this situation is an affront to democracy on the basis of “one person, one vote”.

But instead of fixing it, they point fingers at each other and pay lip service to the problem because the arrangement suits them nicely.

The most direct message we can send – to tell them that they must legislate for an equal say for all, immediately – is for us to refuse to lend legitimacy to this skewed system by spoiling our ballots.

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