Voices and Voting – the common denominator (and why I'll make my X)

2014-05-04 16:31

Like the soapboxes of the past, on which citizens stepped to express their views, blogging platforms offer contemporary opinionisti the opportunity to hold forth from computers and laptops.

Bloggers find meaning in the self-expression as oration carries via cyber lines to audiences of potentially hundreds of thousands. Seductive isn’t it? And all this can happen from home. Right now, I’m in my pyjamas, in bed on a rainy Sunday morning in Cape Town, with a cuppa. I’m Googling ancient Greek and Roman philosophy to back up my argument: the expression of diverse opinions can keep South Africa strong.

Never mind the rainbow, we’re an orchestra. Whether the sound is carefully constructed and finely tuned or a bluster of hot noise, bloggers give resonance to thoughts, viewpoints, ideologies. By airing our different perspectives we create a stereophonic experience of our world.

Whether deep thinkers or spewers of vitriol - and who’s to rule definitively which is which? - we express to be heard. So here’s a toast to us, hats off to every one of us as we share views online and put ourselves on the line.

But there’s more to it than personal gratification, or a perceived success rate measured in hits and likes and maybe a comment or few. The therapists tell us: Talk about it. You’re only as sick as your secrets; don’t keep it bottled inside; letting off steam keeps you sane. Blogging may be about self-expression, but applied to a broader basis, acknowledging conflict, corruption, poverty, pain, means the safety valve is at least loosened. Communication and the interchange of ideas and points of view stops the gasket under pressure from exploding.

So we have this going for us as South Africans - the ability to question, to discuss and argue diverse views. Even though our sciences might be lagging and there’s no excuse for the 30% matric pass required, our habit to challenge the status quo stands us in good stead. And how can we best challenge the status quo? In simple words, by voting.

Outraged with the massive amounts of spending on Zuma’s palace, Nkandla? Not willing to vote for any party with the preface ‘Christian’? Appalled by Mamphela’s about turn from Agang to the DA and back again? Disgruntled that the Dagga Party was disqualified? Astounded that the EFF wants to nationalize the sea? (At least, it’s been reported, the EFF won’t enter into a coalition with either the ANC or the DA: "We are not interested in the riff-raff of government,” says Julius.) There’s always The Electoral Commission of South Africa to give you a list and summary of the record number of thirty-three parties from which to choose. Which in itself shows growth – the contestation of the elections by many new parties shows a healthy and developing democracy.

Sure, voting for smaller parties, as suggested by the “Sidikiwe! Vukani!” campaign might be the answer for many citizens disenchanted by the prevailing government. But spoiling a ballot paper as a so-called ‘protest vote’, as the campaigners go so far as to encourage, would be, for me, like losing my voice.

A spoilt ballot sheet implies silence, fear and disdain, when we should show courage and choose something to stand for. Our democracy is, after all, fledgling. What is twenty years? No party is ideal. No party will meet the needs of every voter. Just like marriage and friendship are a compromise, choosing political affiliation has its limitations. Perfection does not exist.

Playwright Andrew Irvine reminds us that, “During a time of war and great social and intellectual upheaval, the Greek philosopher Socrates felt compelled to express his views openly, speaking at all times in favour of truth, regardless of the consequences.” Speaking in terms of truth, however (or perceived truth) does not always pay: in the year 400 B.C., an indictment was laid against him in the following terms: "Socrates is guilty of crime; first, for not worshipping the gods whom the city worships, and for introducing new divinities of his own; next for corrupting the youth. The penalty due is death."

Socrates accepted the judgment as the result of a democratic vote of the jury. He drank the hemlock concoction. He respected the Democracy he’d spoken up for, and died as a consequence of that democracy.

South Africa has her own extended roll of honour. Too many gave their lives for the Right to Vote.

We wanted democracy, we got it. Now it’s time to drink our (preferred) poison.

If there really is no common ground, if you just can’t stomach it, resolve to start your own party. The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa offers tips. Put your money where your mouth is and invest in formulating policy which will signify, one hopes, a better future for all.

Personally, I’d rather vote now for something concrete, at least move towards supporting a gutsy party, than leave my ballot paper in a mess. In essence I won’t be cowed into insignificance. I choose to make my mark in an appropriate box. In the memory of all that has gone before, and in hope for the future.

Voting is an expression, voting is about Voice. Diversity in Parliament will offer what this page does - and what every communication does – that orchestral reverberation of the world we live in.

I’m on twitter @JoanneHichens

** Visit the dedicated News24 page for all the latest updates regarding the upcoming elections.**

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