South Africans queue as they wait to cast their vote on May 7, 2014 in Manguang, South Africa. This is the fifth democratic election in South Africas history. (Photo by Gallo Images / Conrad Bornman)
It is disturbing to hear that South Africans seem not to have hope in the practice of voting because all political parties are the same. This statement is a fallacy when uttered by those who have not tried voting for other political parties, writes Ralph Mathekga.
If there is anything worth emphasising in politics today, it's that political parties remain the best organisations through which to mobilise for political action.
Parties help their members share ideals and goals that are worth pursuing for the broader interests of the society. Participation of different political parties in the elections also means that voters would have meaningful choices regarding which party better represents their interests to a point where a party could be voted into power.
South Africa's preparation for the May 8 elections has triggered the usual country cynicism about organised or representative politics. The difficult question for South Africans would be what changes, if any, will the elections bring for the broader population. Elections should always be about shifting the society in a desirable direction. It should express a clear message by the voters regarding what they want to see being done by government.
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The challenge that South Africans seem to be confronted with as they head towards the elections is to know exactly why they go out and vote. In other words, what would the key message be from the voters as they go to different voting stations on May 8?
There is a worrying cynicism regarding the effectiveness of electoral politics when it comes to improving the lives of the people or better functioning of institutions. This cynicism becomes apparent when voters start to believe that voting for another party will not really change the behaviour of politicians in any case.
Voters express cynicism towards political parties when they start to lose hope that political parties can act in the public interest. It is well known that political parties are not perfect. They encounter internal challenges that are similar to the very problems that the society calls upon them to resolve, namely corruption and greed. Be that as it may, there is no known acceptable alternative way of mobilising political action than the process of mobilising representation through political parties.
Even if there are no perfect political parties that would completely satisfy all the wishes of their supporters, it is important for voters to consider voting for different parties before disengaging from the process of voting.
It is understandable for communities to voice their frustrations against political parties by threatening to stay away from the polls. However, it is hasty of voters to disengage from voting before they can meaningfully try out other parties and seek to influence those parties.
It is unrealistic to search for a perfect political party since none exist. Voters have the responsibility to try to change the political system before they give up and disengage. One cannot say they have tried to change the political system if they have only voted for fewer than a handful of political parties in their entire experience as voters.
It is disturbing to hear that South Africans seem not to have hope in the practice of voting because all political parties are the same. This statement is a fallacy when uttered by those who have not tried voting for other political parties.
Indeed South Africa's politics can be depressing in terms of the level of corruption, for example. However, it would be unfair to argue that it does not offer recourse from wrongdoing.
There may be limited alternatives in terms of political parties participating in the May 8 elections. But there are still parties with which votes can safely be invested or parked. A vote is still a potential for recourse against wrongdoing in South Africa, particularly if it's a vote cast carefully.
As a country, South Africans have no right to resign themselves to cynicism yet; they can still vote and take responsibility for their votes.
- Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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