Why should I VOTE? Empowering Change

The first lesson is that it takes more than a single heroic leader at the top to change the trajectory of an institution, or a nation. The second lesson is that in leadership, character is always more important than strategy. Nelson Mandela

As a mother, I had the privilege of encouraging my sons to register to vote. I found it to be a formidable task, given the prevailing lack of confidence among many young individuals towards our government and their minimal inclination to grasp the significance of their vote. Personally, I resonate with this sentiment. I too grapple with myself, debating whether my vote holds weight and can alter the grim reality our democracy currently faces. Whom do I place my trust in? Who will effect the change I aspire to witness, for my son, my community, my country? Who is truly deserving of it?

I remain uncertain, so how can I expect my sons to step into the polling booth and make their voices heard, when so many voices in this nation go unheard each day? When numerous individuals suffer due to the lack of essential services, opportunities, healthcare, education, employment, and when many live without security and protection in their own homes, places of worship, or workplaces? How can we cast our votes when the youth roam the streets under the influence of drugs, facing a world of unfulfilled promises and no solutions? Who will bring about change for the women and girls forced into prostitution to survive on the streets? Who will put an end to the lack of safety for children and the glaring absence of accountability for criminals?

When informal settlements are expanding daily, with communities residing in deplorable and unhygienic conditions? When law enforcement services are insufficient to the extent that one feels unsafe and unsupported when reporting instances of rape or violence by an intimate partner? How can we cast our votes when every day the headlines are rife with tales of corruption, fraud, and bribery at every turn? Who will advocate for the elderly and the mentally ill, providing them with a life free from the harsh realities that afflict the aging and disabled? Can someone be the catalyst for change that will result in diversity in employment, employing on merit rather than perpetuating inequality and reverse racial agendas from our past? Who will offer that young man his first job, regardless of the colour of his skin? Or advance that middle-aged man because of his ability and skill, rather than holding him back due to his association of colour with the apartheid regime? Which political party will ensure safer streets and an improved economy, allowing families to reunite without constraints? Which of the numerous manifestos will genuinely alleviate the burden of taxes and inflation on the middle-income family? Who will transcend their luxurious cars, taxpayer-funded lunches, air-conditioned offices, grand promises, and opulent residences to acknowledge the excessive number of individuals living below the poverty line and unemployed, before deeming our nation truly free and just? Who is truly worthy of my vote?

I was on the cusp of turning 20 in June when the inaugural democratic elections took place in South Africa on 27 April 1994. These elections marked the first post-apartheid national elections in South Africa, where the promise of equality was extended to all, irrespective of race.

In the years that followed, I observed this year, that even during what appeared to be a pivotal election year, Freedom Day on 27 April passed by without much thought and fanfare, except for those who were employed, which equated to a paid day off.

As May 29 comes closer I pondered the deeper implications of these circumstances. Where do we stand as a nation, a state, a collective? Are we doing to be continuously solely defined by our past experiences and make sure in this democracy its every man for himself? It seems that the lack of tangible change has left many of us, who do not belong to the top 1% or purely historically disadvantaged, feeling disconnected. Perhaps this disconnect stems from the compromised state of our communities and public services in the pursuit of unity and equality. Is it possible that the prevalence of all these numerous atrocities affecting the majority outweighs the presence of instances reminiscent of a “wonderful life”? I am reminded of a poignant moment, in the diary of my life as a single mom, when I sat down with my sons on a Freedom Day holiday and shared with them the significance of  what a new South Africa meant to us all. I shared and reflected on the realities of the past, instilling in them a deep appreciation for the progress made. I introduced them to films like Sarafina, Yesterday, and Cry The Beloved Country to underscore the significance of commemorating days like Freedom Day. As a mother, I hoped to share with them the historical context that shapes their lives as young men of colour growing up in a post-apartheid society. It was more simpler then when they were younger and more impressionable, sharing the essential lessons of the past. They were captivated and intrigued. I felt immense pride in being able to partake in that shaping their young minds and imparting life lessons. More-so, I was proud of instilling in them the importance and dignity of human life, as well as encouraging and ensuring the acceptance of all people regardless of their social status, race, or beliefs. Presently… I am facing challenges. Is it possible that my lack of excitement for the future influencing them? Is the once cherished pride I had for our nation and its leaders now merely a facade of unfulfilled pledges?

So years later, there is now a profound disillusionment with their perception of this country and its political landscape. I now find myself recounting the essence of Madiba’s legacy. What inspired us to eagerly participate in the historic and unforgettable day of our inaugural democratic elections? I now filled tasked with persuading both others and myself that your vote/my vote symbolized a commitment to a government dedicated to eradicating the remnants of apartheid by promoting racial harmony, equality, solidarity, justice, and an improved quality of life for all.

Yet 2 quotes by Nelson Mandela keep coming to mind “As long as many of our people still live in utter poverty, as long as children still live under plastic covers, as long as many of our people are still without jobs, no South African should rest and wallow in the joy of freedom.” This now still rings so true a month before my 50th birthday. If you did your math you will see that 30 years later and I am feeling a wicked sense of doom at the idea of casting my vote. The players haven’t changed and neither has the party lines that are spewed at us at every turn.

For my sons its this quote of Nelson Mandela that rings true in their minds and their views on what the country has to offer them and the equal opportunity that it should afford them, just in reverse. “Why is it that in this courtroom I face a white magistrate, am confronted by a white prosecutor and escorted into the dock by a white orderly? Can anyone honestly and seriously suggest that in this type of atmosphere the scales of justice are evenly balanced?”

It took me a long time to formulate my thoughts to penned this opinion. I’m thinking back just 2 months ago when I sat the night before deadline on closing online registrations, I took it upon myself to register my sons to vote, calling them half hour before midnight getting one time pins. Just like this article, I hope what I have said and say here brings about a change of heart to them, to me and to anyone floundering about whether to vote and who to vote for come 29th May 2024.

And so I thought I am going to navigate this maze and journey through my reflection on this government and my relationship with it. I remember taking the bold step to move from just being a citizen to active participation in my country and adding my voice to the change I want to see. I kept thinking can any person on the streets at community level, advocate change, who on earth will hear me? Well; you reading this aren’t you? So someone is listening and hearing me. And so through the years, I continue to use my voice. It is a hell much better than sitting back and complaining. You see, I have found that its not about thinking you will never be able to change the trajectory of government because you an insignificant someone in the larger scheme of things. You just need to keep trying. One message at a time.

To reiterate my point I feel I need to remind you that it was not one man in a prison cell that brought about change. It was the idea of change. And an idea lasts longer and out lives every human life. Madiba’s was not alone. No man is an island. (Hahahaha). He was part of a bigger collective of people, minds and hearts. Together they were not only able to change things in this country but world wide. These relationships forged with other people in different race groups, ethic backgrounds, cultures, gender, fields. Change was shouted out in rooms we may never be in. Transformed thinking was brained stormed on different platforms and the unthinkable was made possible. And change happened. Your vote matters and collectively we can bring about change. The change we need is for everyone, especially those who face the ugliness of society, the corruption in government, and the lives many who live in inhumane poverty and fear everyday. You see, it takes a collective, a community of people to make change happen. Your vote is that pebble, which will have a ripple effect on the outcome of these elections.

Let this dialogue continue to grow within you until the moment you step into the voting booth. Despite the appearance of a one-sided relationship the powers that be have with us. Think about it like a dating, in the hopes of finding a significant long-lasting relationship. What aspirations do you hold? Like any relationship, the allure of romance is captivating. The wining and dining, the tender care and attention, the promises of unwavering commitment. The shared dreams, the exchange of luxurious gifts, and the profound love extended to all those in your inner circle. There is nothing they wouldn’t do for you. Both parties eagerly await the moment when one is selected as a lifelong companion as the journey of courtship progresses. However, there inevitably comes a point when a decision must be made. It is not feasible to continue openly dating multiple suitors. There comes a moment when a choice must be made, a commitment must be embraced, and ultimately a verdict must be rendered. So you ask yourself who and what matters to me in a partnership, things like honesty, trust, respect. Do I feel safe with this person. Is this person a manipulator, a liar. Is there signs of dishonesty? Psychopathy? Narcissism? Grandstanding? Do I feel unheard and neglected? Has my partner breached my trust in the past? How significant is this breach of trust to me? Have they abused their authority in the relationship? Can you assert your independence and express your discontent without fear of reprisal or retaliation? Is there mutual respect present? Respect entails valuing and comprehending each other’s identities, needs, and boundaries. In any given society, the relationship between the government and its citizens is paramount. It constitutes a dynamic and intricate interaction that molds the political, economic, and social fabric of a nation. It is the duty of the government to ensure the safety and well-being of its citizens, safeguard their rights and freedoms, and furnish essential services like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. In turn, its people are expected to abide by the laws, pay taxes, and engage in the democratic process through voting and civic engagement within their communities.

Within our nation as South Africans, we have observed imperfections in this relationship. Tensions and conflicts between the government and its people have resulted in protests, strikes, looting, blatant criminal activities, and widespread uncertainty and unrest. It is imperative that we dig deeper into the political parties vying for our support. We must scrutinize the qualities we are looking for in a party leader. Consider what qualities you value in a partnership and what you anticipate from this relationship. Is honesty a priority? How about transparency and accountability? Do fairness, equality, safety, and security outweigh access to clean water and local municipal services? What has become of past commitments? Where does your chosen party stand on social injustices and ethical governance? Are economic opportunities and promises of reduced services more compelling than a leader’s integrity or moral character? Your expectations of a political party leader should align with the changes you wish to see and the values you wish to uphold as a member of society.

Your role as a citizen of this country carries substantial weight. Perhaps your expectations are lofty, and finding an ideal candidate seems elusive. Consider the long-term implications and envision yourself as an active participant in society. Ask yourself the hard questions, and maybe we can look pass the allure of short-term indulgences of T-shirts, food hampers, and temporary relief from Load-Shedding. Think about the reality of the characteristics of  the candidates vying for your attention for one of the most critical relationships you will engage in. Try and select the one that can pave the way for a brighter future for all.

While a flawless candidate may be unattainable, you can opt for the one that aligns with your aspirations for the future, both personally and for our country  Ultimately, a robust and positive relationship between the government and its people is indispensable for the overall prosperity and welfare of society.

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