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What a good day to be a South African

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

We tend to forget that it has been just 25 years since all South Africans were able to enjoy their full democratic freedoms, freedoms that were hard-won through many struggles. So don’t take voting for granted – go out and make a difference, and be proud to be South African.

We are at it again, that age-old game called democracy. We are so clear about what is expected of us, that to any outsider unfamiliar with South African politics it would seem as if we have been playing this game since time immemorial. Yes, a time in the past so long ago that people have no knowledge or memory of it.

And yet you and I know that it has only been 25 years since this sacred right was bestowed on us as blacks – bestowed after blood and tears, suffering and struggle. We know that we have to apply for our identity cards to be able to vote. We know that we have to register with the Independent Electoral Commission to appear on the voters’ roll. And yes, we know that we must confirm our voting station and get there early to avoid the long queues. This is all too familiar to us; how quickly we have learned and understood our most basic of rights, that of the vote. We should be a proud people indeed.

This is the day that we vote in our sixth democratic general election. Who would have thought? Who would have thought that we as a nation would still be at it, making our democracy work for us? Yes, we have had our fair share of ups and downs, but in the end, we can make bold to the entire world that South Africa’s post-1994 miracle is alive and well. That our Constitution and Bill of Rights, our Chapter Nine institutions responsible for the protection of our fundamental rights, are standing and operational and respected, that our basic human rights remain fundamental and protected.

It is a good day to be a South African.

And because we know at what cost these rights came about, we have a responsibility when casting that vote. We know of the pain and suffering of the Khoi and San people at the hand of the British and Dutch colonialists. The genocide they as first nations had to endure in their fight for freedom. We know of the pain and suffering of the Xhosa and Zulu nations in the Frontier Wars and how they were among the first to be banished and imprisoned on Robben Island. We know of the pain and suffering of the Afrikaner people at the hands of the British during the Anglo-Boer War, the concentration camps, the scorched earth policy and so much more. We know of the pain and suffering of the black people at the hands of the racist white minority, the banning orders, the dompas laws, the Immorality Act, the separate homelands policy, the torture, imprisonment and killing of our black people. And yes, so much more.

And because we remember and know such pain and suffering, it makes today the more special for us all. To know that because of that incredibly difficult history, to stand in these queues today we reaffirm the preamble of our Constitution, that we, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land, respect those who worked to build and develop our country and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

It is a good day to be a South African.

I know that many of us have, as responsible citizens, been preoccupied with what our vote is really going towards. Is it going towards strengthening the opposition parties so as to ensure that the governing ANC is kept in check, or is it going towards strengthening the ANC as the governing party so as to ensure that the rot that set in over the last few years is cleaned up and our country is put on the road to recovery and stability? Whatever your reasons, you must remember to hold all public representatives to account. A strong civil society is now more than ever a necessity in our body politic. After all, this is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, as someone once proclaimed in his second inaugural address in the US many moons ago.

I also know that you, like me, have been preoccupied with what is going to happen after this very crucial general election, given the rumours and conspiracies surrounding the key protagonists in the ruling ANC. After all, many have predicted Armageddon, the mother of all wars, the apocalypse, come 9 May.

Sun Tzu, however, tells us that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles. He adds that supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. And finally, he says to us, the supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without fighting.

This, I argue, is what has been happening since President Cyril Ramaphosa took the reins of the Presidency just over a year ago.

So, worry we will, but become active citizens we must. We have survived many tribulations throughout the history of our country and it is for this reason that we will never take for granted this right, the right to vote.

It is a good day to be a South African.

To those who think we will be deterred by intimidation, burning of our voting stations and violence, you better think again.

This is our democracy, we have earned it, let no man put asunder! DM

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