Opinion

To vote, or to give up on the political system, is the Sophie's choice South Africans face in Wednesday's elections

05 May 2019 - 00:07


Barack Obama, the former US president, provides great motivation for voting. "So if you don't like what's going on right now - and you shouldn't - do not complain. Don't hashtag. Don't get anxious. Don't retreat. Don't binge on whatever it is you're bingeing on. Don't lose yourself in ironic detachment. Don't put your head in the sand. Don't boo. Vote."
This was in a speech that Obama delivered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ahead of the midterm elections in the US last year. Like with us now, many Americans, particularly younger people, were apathetic about voting, mainly due to a loss of faith in the political system.
I doubt I will be able to bring myself to vote on Wednesday but have been trying to research why I should. I do not buy the claptrap that voting is the "right thing to do" when no political party on the ballot represents who I am or has any plan or ability to address the complex problems of our country.
Many people lined up by the main political parties to be our public representatives are an insult to our nation. They would not even be able to run a cake sale without eating the cakes themselves - or peddling the baking process to their patronage networks.
I refuse to vote for individual leaders because that is antithetical to how our political system operates, and no amount of contortions of logic can change that.
But I have not shut the door yet and am reading about global thinking on democratic participation.
What I found were more reasons not to vote.
"If one participates, one condones and endorses the process, and subsequently, what those elected 'representatives' do and say in your name," says a website that advocates "the art of not being governed".
"Participation in the system (ie voting) implies that the majority knows what's best for everyone," it says.
"If an individual has not come to a firm conclusion about the election, that individual will do more for their country/community by not voting, rather than making a mistake."
The clincher: "Supporting the lesser of two evils is still supporting evil."
The Zondo commission has made me realise how farcical the political system is when corrupt business people are able to control the state by simply buying off politicians and key officials.
At the end of the inquiry, judge Raymond Zondo wants to identify the loopholes that led to the repurposing of the state to facilitate corruption, and make recommendations on how to protect the integrity of the state.
What Zondo cannot do, however, is police politicians, particularly those who were involved in hawking the electoral mandate and got away with it.
Those who have been exposed show how flimsy the accountability mechanisms are because there are as yet no consequences for their actions.
Obama says the biggest threat to democracy is indifference. Therefore, you have to "show up".
"Change happens. Hope happens. Not perfection," he said. "You can be the generation that at a critical moment stood up and reminded us just how precious this experiment in democracy really is, just how powerful it can be when we fight for it, when we believe in it."
But is voting the best way to stand up and fight for our country?
The reason there are so many hopeless people vying to be our public representatives is because the political system is closed off to credible, capable leaders who have the potential to modernise and reimagine our future.
We have to revert to the goals of the Freedom Charter, written in 1955, because nobody can think of fresh solutions to society's current problems. SA has many great minds who opt to remain on the sidelines or choose to look after their own financial wellbeing rather than the good of society.
So it is difficult to invest in a system that is never going to attract or shape good leaders.
Wherever we are in society, including the media, there comes a time when we have to choose whether to fight on or give up.
There is one South African who has shown tremendous strength of character in the face of injustice, who excelled to reach the pinnacle of human achievement and who is the epitome of patriotism.
This week, Caster Semenya lost her legal case against the athletics governing body, the IAAF, and is now required to take medication to reduce her testosterone in order to compete in certain track events.
This medication could have harmful side effects, but if she opts not to take it, it could end her illustrious career.
The choice is unfair and offensive to a person who only wants to use her natural-born abilities to compete and represent her country.
It is not clear yet whether Semenya will appeal the decision. After the ruling, she tweeted: "Knowing when to walk away is wisdom. Being able to is courage. Walking away with your head held high is dignity."
With our destiny in the balance, there are no easy answers.
I hope we all make the right decision.

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