The potholes in our politics
Jonathan Jansen: You cannot drive straight along the road into Kroonstad. The stretch of tar that connects the N1 highway to other side of town, where stand two historic schools named by the colour of their roofs, is broken up by large and small potholes.
"There are more potholes in your town than people," I tell the children of Die Rooidak Skool (Rooies) and, later that morning, to the children of Die Bloudak Skool (Bloues), to raucous laughter from both sides of the street.
If you want to understand why I did not vote yesterday you will find all the answers on the road from the national highway to these two high schools in Kroonstad. We drive slowly, for if you hit one of those giant potholes you are looking at thousands of rands of damage to your vehicle's underbelly.
"You might even drop down one of them potholes and land in Australia, down under," I tease the pupils still shaking with laughter.
Moving gingerly along the broken road through the town one is greeted by the sight of loads and loads of rubbish along the sides of the road, where once was a pavement. I watched the commuters going to work in these early hours of 17 May and noticed how they dodged the filth, sometimes kicking the dirt on the street, as they made their way through the muck.
Then the surprise. Just above the mounds of dirt there are five, six, seven posters of rival political parties urging the filth dodgers and the pothole avoiders to vote for them.
The largest posters on display belong to the party that rules in the town. The word "audacity" comes to mind.
"There is no shame," I tell my driver colleague. I would run and hide if I had messed up this once beautiful town in the northern Free State, not put up my posters asking for another opportunity to run the place into the ground.
"Scandalous," I think to myself.
Why run for office, again, if you messed up the town? It's quite simple, really. The locals tell of a recent scandal of people in the municipality caught out buying furniture for their offices to the tune of R95000 for a table and excessive amounts to adorn their work spaces. This is why people engage in violent conflict to get on election lists. It is not to make sure the dirt is collected or the potholes fixed. It is the only way to gain access to and raid the public coffers for personal enrichment and outlandish greed.
Which brings me to the greatest mystery of all - the simple fact that the party ruling in this town will be returned to power by a majority vote by the very people under-served and exploited by their local rulers.
Why? Because most of us still vote our skins and many of us still vote our memories. We are still resolutely tribal in our affiliations.
To be sure, there are signs that some municipalities will change hands in favour of those who actually make a difference in the lives of local people. In this respect, says a good friend, there are interesting calculations being made by the poor, like: "I will vote DA locally for delivery in my municipality and ANC nationally for history in my country." I am not sure if the results will show this reasoning constitutes a national trend.
That is why I will not vote. My vote is meaningless in these contexts. It will not change the character of leadership at the local level. It will not lead to better service delivery to our people or more respect for fellow citizens. It will be overwhelmed by the millions who vote based on ethnic loyalties and apartheid memories.
I was rebuked when I declared at the recent Franschhoek Literary Festival that I would not be encouraging people to vote. I waited all my life to vote. But we are in danger of making a serious mistake when we reduce democracy to the act of voting. I will be fighting for democracy, for sure, every time the powerful try to muzzle the media.
I will be out there encouraging democratic behaviour daily in the schools and universities of our country.
But until my vote can reasonably stand a chance of replacing the arrogant ruler with the genuine public servant, I will stay indoors and keep myself warm on this frosty Free State morning.