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Youth and elections: I refuse to vote, but I still have a right to complain

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Nkateko Mabasa is a journalist at Daily Maverick

There has recently been some intense advertising and political campaigning to solicit the youth vote ahead of the 2019 national elections. With voter registration among the youth the lowest of all age groups, it is about time political parties begin to take notice of the silent majority who refuse to participate in legitimising a sham electoral process that brings no return to civic engagement.

Although we are told incessantly that the power is in “our hands”, as voters we are often caught up as casualties of party politicking, cadre deployment that leads to corruption and the special interests of big business, which influences policy in exchange for campaign funding.

The power, it seems, has never been in the hands of the people. And while political parties require us — the voters — to sign a social contract that legitimises their monopoly on violence, politicians are interested only in the symbolism of voting in a democracy, but never in a government of the people and for the people.

I am keenly aware of the sacrifices that have been made to ensure that there is universal suffrage in South Africa. Many known and unknown heroines and heroes of the struggle against apartheid fought long and hard to ensure that I, as a young person in 2019, can enjoy the right to vote.

It is for this reason I voted for the first time in the 2014 national elections. Like many young people in democratic South Africa, I looked forward to experiencing the pride that so many of our parents felt when they voted for the first time in their adult lives in 1994. I was emboldened by their stories of that day, 27 April 1994. With aching knees and straightened backs they stood in long, winding queues waiting to cast their vote and by so doing, reclaim their humanity.

And so it is not lost on me what the vote means. I suppose it is for these reasons that we are told, as the youth, that although we might be dissatisfied with government and discouraged by a lack of options in the electoral ballot, we must still participate. We are advised to look at our options of political parties and choose one that has the smallest of smallanyana skeletons. Rather choose the lesser devil, they say.

How low our standards have dropped and how far we have descended in our lack of moral clarity, all in the quest of securing a system that we can all see is broken and is beyond repair. One wonders if it ever worked in the first place.

It is beyond comprehension to the older generation not to vote, even though they are surely voting for parties that have proven to be incapable of solving our country’s problems and who refuse to listen to the voters, just immediately after elections. Voting — or rather the symbolic commitment to it — demands their participation.

They need to free themselves and subsequently free us, the youth, from the emotional obligation they have to what 1994 meant.

Every election, the ANC speaks of a good story to tell and self-correction while corruption continues to rob communities of money for economic development, health facilities, education and jobs.

The official opposition is no better — the Democratic Alliance has been so anti-ANC no one actually knows what they stand for anymore. And by pretending that race is not an issue, they do the very same thing they blame the ANC of doing when they pretend there has been an improvement in people’s lives.

And although the EFF arrived on the political scene as a breath of fresh air for many young people by championing the issues affecting domestic workers, security guards and the poor, while also distinguishing themselves with a clearly defined vision, their roots in the ANC are starting to show — look no further than their deeply embedded corruption in the VBS scandal.

The rest of the 283 political parties registered with the IEC to be included in the ballot are either still holding on to old dogmas of liberation politics out of tune with contemporary struggles (such as IFP, ACDP, FFP) or they are offshoots of the ANC seeking a seat in Parliament for themselves in order to get a piece of the pie (such as BLF, ATM, ACM, Cope).

In the 2014 national elections, 32.7 million people were eligible to vote. But only 25.3 million people registered to vote, with only 18,654,771 (57%) — just a little over half the eligible voters — turning up at the polls.

And although the ANC won decisively with 62.2% of the national vote — it was only 62% of the 18,654,771 people who voted. The numbers keep dropping when you don’t just count percentages, which inflate participation.

Seven million South Africans did not register, with a further seven million who registered failing to show up to vote. That means 14 million South Africans actively refused to participate in the electoral process.

Our blame can be directed to the nature of political parties to always seek hegemony in their cult-like make-up — or maybe the issue is in a representative democracy that subjects us to public officials neither chosen by nor directly accountable to the voters. It is obvious that the power is in the hands of the political party once it has swindled it from the voters.

In these elections, I refuse to vote and give my power to any political party. They will try their best to woo me with promises of renewal, inclusivity and radical change. We all know that Thuma Mina, One South Africa for All, and land expropriation without compensation are just market-tested slogans to exploit our longing for change.

It is only by refusing to participate in the electoral process entirely that political parties will listen to the demands of the voters. By voting in the opposition is to validate their smallanyana skeletons which will eventually grow to mammoth proportions when in power.

As a citizen, I still have a right to demand my due in service delivery and respect. I still have a right to complain that public officials that I did not vote for are abusing their power, short-circuiting the rule of law for their own benefit and jeopardising the future of my country by pursuing economic policies that have no basis in reality other than special interests from big business and international corporations.

I am registered to vote, but I am among a silent majority that will be counted as disapproving of the electoral process by protesting. A simple protest of staying home, refusing to legitimise corruption and a lack of accountability. DM

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