'Your children need to see you vote' and other reasons why the parent vote matters

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The outcome impacts directly on your family
The outcome impacts directly on your family

Parents of young children and teens comprise the nation's primary income earners. As South Africa's largest group of taxpayers and decision-makers, parents represent the demographic most dependent on a receptive and responsive government that prioritises streamlined service delivery.

Nevertheless, in the build-up to the municipal elections on 1 November, few seem blown away by the unfulfilled promises of their current ward councillors.

Moreover, up-and-coming opposition candidates, where present, seem to have popped up only in the last few weeks. Anecdotally, many South Africans feel this sudden surge of campaigning has been too little, too late.

Still, disillusionment and cynicism aside, not knowing who to vote for is no reason to stay away on election day.

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The outcome impacts directly on your family

"It's important that parents look at the local government elections in terms of service delivery. These are the fundamental issues that affect us as parents in terms of our day-to-day living," says best-selling author and journalist Mandy Wiener.

The mom of two notes that, while the national elections tackle some of the broader issues facing our nation, the outcome of municipal elections directly impacts area-specific service delivery.

On a localised scale, this includes tending to burst water pipes and holding the right people accountable for unexplained power outages – issues that parents deal with daily, affecting how we run our homes.

"It's not so much about the more global policy-related issues," Wiener reminds News24. "We are not voting for the national government in these elections. It's very much about your local councillor."

A quick show of hands among South Africans proves that a worrying number of us fail to resonate with the policies being punted by any one particular party. But, according to Wiener, the onus is on each individual to figure out which candidate resonates most with them and their family values.

She believes it's perfectly acceptable for your local vote to differ from your national one.

In an opinion piece recently published on voter indecision, Wiener wrote: "Remember, this is a vote for your local councillor and for your representative at city level, so you can elect a person and not necessarily a party that you agree with."

What to look for in a ward councillor

When considering which candidate most resonates with your values, Wiener suggests looking at accessibility.

Is the candidate present on the community WhatsApp group?

Do they answer calls and messages?

Are they active on social media?

Will they escalate a complaint you've lodged, or follow up on a logged fault?

Will they act and get stuff done?

"These are all things that a councillor does. They escalate and address community problems. As a parent, the kind of person that you want to run your ward is someone that will hear you out and make a difference in your community."

Weiner believes that seeking out a candidate you can identify with is far more desirable than being apathetic and not voting at all.

"That's not democracy, and we all want to see democracy in action. The best way for the process to work is to actually go out and vote for someone. Cast your ballot."

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Mothers are the most qualified to speak up

Cape Town-based non-profit and motherhood advocacy group Embrace agrees that the outcome of the municipal elections is critical to the lives of parents – mothers in particular.

"Mothers are the most qualified to speak about the issues affecting their communities, and their experiences should be at the centre of conversations around local government," says Embrace project leader Julie Mentor. With women comprising 55% of registered voters, she points out that over a million live births are recorded annually, making mothers an important demographic and legitimate constituency.

"But mothers are not specifically targeted by election campaigns, and their concerns are not prioritised in the articulation of party priorities," she says.

Motherhood is political

In the build-up to the upcoming elections, Embrace launched the #motherhoodispolitical campaign.

The campaign highlights the crucial role mothers play in the economic and social life of the country, despite the concerns of mothers not being prioritised by those elected to public office.

As Mentor points out, mothers are the ones who wait in long queues at primary healthcare clinics, who walk home in unsafe and unlit streets, and who have to ensure that their households have clean water when there are disruptions to basic services, like electricity and sanitation.

"Mothers should be consulted on how their rates and taxes are spent. Every mother is an expert on her child and should not be excluded from decisions affecting the education, recreation or future employment of her children," says Mentor.

She adds that party manifestos largely exclude gender-sensitive language, with no explicit mention of mothers, which is indicative of how mothers are marginalised in society. "Embrace wants to ensure proper recognition of the participation of moms as voters and that proposed policies, programmes, by-laws and budgets truly reflect the needs of women. We would like to see mothers demand their rightful role in politics," she says.

The #motherhoodispolitical campaign is geared towards raising awareness about the influence mothers have in and out of the voting booth. The goal is to empower mothers ahead of 1 November and to instil confidence in their decision and voting power as mothers.

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Raise active citizens

Urging mothers to show up at the polls, Embrace further encourages all parents to include their children in the voting experience.

In a recent blog post that encourages parents to engage in some introspection and basic research ahead of election day, the organisation highlights how important it is to have age-appropriate conversations with your children about democracy, the elections and the voting process.

"1 November has been declared a public holiday. If possible, take the children out for ice-cream or do a fun activity after voting. Talk to older children about why it's important to vote and how to make an informed voting decision. This is one of the ways we can make sure we raise a generation of active citizens," says Embrace.

As someone whose job it is to drive home the importance of exercising one's right to vote, Wiener has made a conscious effort to develop political awareness in her children.

"Instilling that sense of democracy is really important. Your children need to see you vote. They need to know that you are voting, who and what you're voting for and how you hold elective leaders accountable. This is an opportunity to do that," she says.

Unsure of your registration status or who your current ward councillor is? Click here for more info. For some insight into your municipality’s performance over the last four years, see News24's Out of Order index.

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