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Opinionista

Do South Africans truly understand the power of their vote?

Refiloe Ntsekhe is the DA National Spokesperson and Deputy Federal Chairperson. She also serves as Gauteng Social Development Shadow MEC. and is the constituency head for Kempton Park and Tembisa. @refiloentsekhe

Perhaps the act of the Nkandla village people standing up against corruption, and not voting for the ANC in their ward is the beginning of an age where South Africans realise the innate power of their vote. Hopefully this message will gain traction so that politicians realise that they are elected to serve the people rather than gain materially from the position. By REFILOE NTSEKHE.

It pains me when you work in the townships and ask people about whether they vote and their response is that they don’t believe that voting will make a difference. Voter education has not been done sufficiently in South Africa. It seems that the IEC is not fulfilling its role and when an election comes, they rely on political parties to carry out their mandate.

Perhaps if ordinary South Africans understood that going to vote gives them as much power as their richest neighbour: one person, one vote; if people started conversations about how to hold their governments accountable, only then would voters not be taken for granted. They would experience more pressure to deliver on promises, knowing that a win depended on the strength of their delivery record. To me it seems the ANC has become arrogant and complacent, assured of its majority regardless of the trail of destruction it leaves in its wake. How different would this situation be if the ANC faced the pressure of a different electoral outcome?

One should also take a step back and reflect on the possibility that the ruling party deliberately ensures that most South Africans are denied electoral knowledge. Would South Africans vote differently if they really knew how much power they possess; would they perhaps be inclined to give other political parties a chance and see if their lives change for the better?

Sadly, the ruling party has also become the party that resorts to using the racism card so as to instil fear in voters about making a different vote. This is not to say that racism does not exist in South Africa. The emphasis is on the use of power and state organs to frighten ordinary South Africans from trying something different and something new.

An observation that comes to mind is how the SABC will broadcast footage of the Sharpeville massacre and other apartheid horrors around an election period. This seems to me, to be a way to remind and frighten millions of South Africans who may have made a very different choice.

The same goes for people who are threatened at the voting stations on or before Election Day. Elderly people are told that the ANC brought them their RDP houses. Mothers with children are told that the without the ANC, they would not have their child grants. The threats are that by voting for a different political party, these benefits, their RDP houses, will be taken away from them.

Why doesn’t the IEC educate South Africans outside of election periods that “your vote is your secret” so that come an election, people already understand that no matter the amount of intimidation, they can vote for whatever party they feel is competent enough to change their lives for the better.

South Africans also need to be educated on the separation between party and state – unfortunately the ANC has chosen to use organs of state to strengthen its hold on power, and for the enrichment of party members. Warnings by the previous Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, about the use of state resources for political campaigning fell on deaf ears.

In 2011, I became a councillor, beating the ANC by 59 votes. Every vote counted. It was important for me that every single DA supporter came out to vote. It was important that every single person who lived in that ward understood that I was standing to serve and not to self-enrich.

On one occasion, I sat for six hours with a woman whose baby had died before an approved municipal undertaker came to collect the corpse. When the police arrived, they told me that their job was not to collect dead bodies. When the ambulance came, they told me their job was to take sick people to hospitals and not the dead. Finally after many, many calls, the undertaker arrived and took the dead baby. No trauma counselling for me; however I managed to organise for the local priest to counsel the family.

I was not serving racism – as is often the allegation levelled at black members of the DA, but I was serving a traumatised family who had lost what was supposed to be “their bundle of joy”.

The part that I did not mention is that in dealing with this situation, I had just come back from maternity leave and had a four-month-old baby at home. While in the situation, I somehow blocked out my emotions and simply did what I needed to do to assist this family. It is only as I was driving home that I realised that I had been dealing with a “dead baby” – I cried all the way home thinking of my baby. This was as much counselling as I ever received for that situation.

I guess the main question I ask those who go out to vote is: Who are you electing to serve you? In response, I hope South Africans look past the colour lines and look at what is needed from those who serve. It is important to examine whether the leaders of a party which you support are true servants of the people, and not just there to enrich themselves.

This is why when I look at the South African political landscape, I am shocked that people such as the President can live in absolute luxury while their very neighbours live in absolute poverty. Yes – I am referring to Nkandla – the presidential home which I once visited. Living not more than 20m from the president’s million rand fence is a mud hut which looks as if it will wash away in heavy rains. This hut was but one of many in the village.

My hope is that as democracy matures, people will start to see things for themselves, which is why the ANC was unable to retain the Nkandla ward in the 2016 local government elections. Nkandla is a very rural village and the President’s home looks like a modern day villa with all the trimmings.

Perhaps the act of the Nkandla village people standing up against corruption, and not voting for the ANC in their ward is the beginning of an age where South Africans realise the innate power of their vote. Hopefully this message will gain traction so that politicians realise that they are elected to serve the people rather than gain materially from the position. Such a message would also assist voters in understanding that their choice puts people in government and they can take these same people out – voters should not be taken for granted.

Although this message was heard at a local level, perhaps, this is the message that leaders at a provincial and national elections need to hear. Often a change is required to disrupt the status quo, and to realign a country with its vision. DM

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