I was strolling around my suburb last weekend with my son when he put an interesting question to me: "Dad, why isn't voting like shopping?"
After all, he said, consumers exercise their choice between rival shops by simply walking away from one to another if they are not satisfied with the quality, price or service on offer. They are constantly making comparisons and, despite massive advertising by the retail chains to promote brand loyalty, comparisons drive consumer behaviour. Moreover, most shops in South Africa have a non-racial customer base these days because the last thing customers are thinking about is whether the manager is white or black. In fact, I would say that in the big supermarkets nobody knows because he or she never appears.
In contrast, voters until now have exercised their choice at the ballot box in a very different way. They have been swayed by the colour of the manager; they have been influenced by history rather than current performance; and the box in which they put their cross has largely been determined by promises as opposed to results. A party’s brand has been its most important asset, which is the reason why the ANC is anxious to maintain its revolutionary status as the people's party and the DA wishes to preserve its image of safe hands for the middle class.
It is also the motive behind each party trying to trash the other party's reputation by making claims that at times are very far-fetched. Negative campaigning has proved effective in plenty of democracies around the world. Hence, the ANC accuses the DA of wanting to continue the legacy of apartheid, whereas the DA harps on about the inefficiency and profligacy of spending of government at all levels. Throw in accusations of corruption too. The truth is that the present DA leadership is light years away from the Nats of the 1970s and the ANC has produced pockets of excellence like the Ministry of Finance, the Reserve Bank and Sars. Reality is never all good or all bad, as politicians like to suggest about themselves and their opposition.
The message is this. As a voter, it should come down to a rational as opposed to an emotional choice when you join the queue on election day. We have a municipal one coming up on May 18. The question to ask yourself in the queue is which party is going to provide me with a better quality of life in terms of service provision. On account of it being local elections, the answer may vary from constituency to constituency. Your choice may even be an independent candidate who happens to be better at managing municipal affairs and contractors than the individuals put forward by any of the official parties.
Thus, my advice is to consider your journey to the polling booth as a shopping expedition. Do research beforehand by shopping around. The ANC and the DA have both hung placards on lamp-posts which merely say "vote for us". Can you imagine a major retail chain having as the only component of its promotional campaign "shop at our stores"? People would ask why - you haven't offered us any reasons to choose your shops ahead of your competitors.
In short, based on track record rather than promises about the future, feel free to vote for the same party or vote for another one. If all the candidates are as bad as each other, move to another constituency altogether! You do it every day when you shop.
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