The limits of the vote

2019-03-07 16:24
Clive Ndou.

Clive Ndou.

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As another general election approaches, political parties are at it again — telling citizens that voters have the final say in a one-person, one-vote game that elevates the will of the majority to the top of the incoming government’s to-do list.

According to the above concept, the millions of black people, who among other things are agitating for laws that will ensure redistribution of the country’s wealth, will see their wishes come true should they throw their weight behind a political party such as the ANC or EFF, both of which claim to be custodians of policies involving radical economic transformation.

The millions of people in the rural areas such as Nongoma and uMhlabuyalinga in KwaZulu-Natal who, despite the rest of the country having been liberated in 1994 still live under an oppressive system imposed by traditional leaders, will march to freedom if the ANC, which wants them to get title deeds and other rights, wins the election.

On the other hand, millions of property owners whose investments have over the years been yielding the lowest returns due to the ANC’s poor management of the economy, will see their fortunes change for the better if they vote for a political party such as the DA, which has been promising clean governance.

However, the truth of the matter is that political parties have been exaggerating the power that a voter has in any election.

In fact, the power of a voter is limited to just influencing the outcome of an election — voters decide which group of people controls the levers of power in government at any given time.

As to what that winning group of people should priorities once in government, that power often lies somewhere else. For example, the decision on whether the rural poor in KwaZulu-Natal get title deeds for their homes build on land controlled by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s Ingonyama Trust does not rest with the rural voters, it rests on the influence the king has on those in government.

Should those in government feel that breaking Zwelithini’s stranglehold on rural land could have political ramifications for the ruling elite, then the dreams of the rural poor will remain pipe dreams.

The same principle applies to those citizens voting for the DA with the hope that those who are corrupt will be blocked from holding influential positions in government.

If removing or blocking a corrupt politician from public office would have ramifications for the DA as a political party, then the DA leaders would be very reluctant to remove such a person.

In his book Animal Farm, well-known novelist George Orwell, who died more than six decades ago, captured the predicament of a modern voter when he said: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

As for the millions of voters who will descend on voting stations to cast their ballots on May 8 with the hope of translating the “economic freedom in our lifetime” dream into reality, they will realise that the power to bring about that important change lies elsewhere.

According the City Press wealth index, SA’s 50 richest people are worth a combined R323 billion. To put it in clearer terms, the worth of these 50 individuals is equal to the 2017 gross domestic product of Mozambique and Namibia put together.

Yes, in terms of the one-person, one-vote concept, the votes of these 50 individuals on May 8 will have the exact same weight as those of 50 farmworkers earning R2 000 a month.

However, the truth of the matter is that the 50 wealthiest South Africans have a much greater influence on government policy than that of millions of voters.

As we speak, President Cyril Ramaphosa is on a campaign to get the rich people to invest in the country.

Despite the fact that some of the rich people who Ramaphosa is now pursuing will not even vote in the upcoming elections, Ramaphosa’s administration cannot afford to ignore completely their views on what government’s priorities should be.

Yes indeed, politicians are correct when they urge citizens to vote as voting is a critical pillar of our democracy.

In 1994, it was the power of the voter that made it possible for the evil system of apartheid — which brought untold suffering to the majority of citizens in this country — to be buried once and for all. However, where politicians are at fault is when they fail to explain to voters the limitation of the voter’s power.

If not put in proper context, the issue around the power of a vote can create all sorts of problems.

We have already seen the extent of public anger when citizens feel that the political party they voted for has failed to fulfil their expectations — schools have been burnt down, public roads have been blocked and lives have been lost during some of these angry protests.


Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  opinion and analysis
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