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Opinionista

When dust settles on elections, parties must ditch celebrations and urgently focus on poverty

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Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was raised by his determined maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate type), with exposure in the public sector, management consulting, advisory and private sector. The focus of his work is about enabling equity, justice and leveraging public policy effectively. He had a stint in the South African party-political environment and found the experience a deeply educational one.

South Africans stood in voting queues on Wednesday bonded with a collective desire for service, commitment and endurance. But the disparity between communities is stark — voters who stood in the queue with flat whites and the benefit of infrastructure and private transport, while those from inadequately resourced communities had to walk home in the dark. It is this lived reality that cannot be ignored now that voting is done.

After 30 years of South Africa’s constitutional democracy, millions made the choice to participate in determining the pace of this next chapter of a fragile democracy and the type of elected representatives that will convene the seventh Parliament (and provincial parliaments).

In the early hours of Thursday morning, South Africans across the country were still waiting inside voting stations attempting to cast their vote after hours of endurance. The challenge of voting across our country is often felt by the most vulnerable in society. Elections in South Africa do not simply occur in a vacuum but rather voting must take place in communities that are burdened waiting, limited resources, and where voters are vulnerable to a lived reality that can often crush any hope or optimism.

The process of vote counting is trickling in from more than 23,000 voting districts across the country where local staff, party agents and observers are protecting the choice of voters. The initial counting trickling in from smaller voting stations and rural areas across the country will provide a grim picture for South Africa’s governing party, but also the country given our own history with the coalition politics that has chaotically played across the country.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC discusses cooperation with other parties as it seems set to lose KZN

Those early numbers will be dissected in the coming hours and days leading up to the Electoral Commission aiming to provide a fuller picture of voting across the country by the weekend. The simple truth is that voters have made their choices, and their elected representatives will work on the compromise, deal-making and expediency that will shape our collective futures.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections Dashboard

On Wednesday, I spent Election Day crisscrossing Cape Town observing South Africans not simply standing in long lines, but rather South Africans bonded with a collective desire of service, commitment and endurance. The disparities of our country cannot be wished away especially when an afternoon at voting stations in Manenberg is not simply about the pace of the queue, the fairness and procedures being followed within the voting station, but rather it takes place in a community.

That particular afternoon, just 150 metres away, gang violence had resulted in shooting; shooting that during that day took place not simply once more, but also at a local shopping centre and in the evening again at another voting station within the community.

All of this takes place whilst young children are forced to create out of nothing (often relying on plastic bags, plastic and other discarded material) soccer balls so that they can be children yet forced to play in the only space available – the street.

Sadly, this is not the only place where one is expected to believe in hope and the collective effort of a people standing up for our democracy whilst the very community that they call home is dangerous, difficult and overwhelming. The streets, the aimless streetcorners, the makeshift soccer balls, the hustle and bustle of community were witnessed within the frame of observing the election, and it seemed all so similar from Pelican Park, Seawinds, Khayelitsha, Du Noon, Eastridge, Parkwood, Gugulethu, Langa, Nyanga, Hanover Park, Bishoplavis, Kriefgat, Delft, Bonteheuwel.

Poverty endures

On Wednesday night as the weather turned in Cape Town, my last voting station was in the community of Ocean View. A community itself established as part of an illegitimate regime’s efforts to forcibly remove people of colour from Simon’s Town, Noordhoek, Fish Hoek, and Glencairn. The wind whipped voters as they waited on darkened streets (the relevance or existence of decent street lighting must have been a forgotten plea), huddled together, edging slowly forward after hours of waiting. All of this is juxtaposed against the well-lit and fairly structured waiting that took place in communities that their parents and grandparents called home 60 years ago.

Witnessing voter participation and early views by the IEC on Wednesday, turnout would exceed the 66% voter participation of 2019. But it would seem the IEC is now suggesting that those numbers are much lower than initially expected (potentially with at least 1.5 million less votes than five years ago.

Even more jarring is the context in which voters in many parts of the country made the choice to vote in circumstances that exposed them to the grim picture of being poor and disposed (with many risking their lives on the walk home after voting late in the evening). After hours of queuing and a fair level of frustration (including contending with uncollected refuse, streets with no lighting, inclement weather), voters would have had to walk home in the dark. These realities are not only felt on the night of the election but also every day whilst other voters had the benefit of infrastructure, access to private transport.

The juxtaposition of voters in Ocean View is an unacceptable outcome whilst other voting stations in places like Rondebosch and Cape Town’s City Bowl may have all had to wait but waiting with flat whites whilst others are exposed to personal safety and difficulties far beyond the lengthy time that millions of South Africans had to endure because of a lack of training, reduced funding availability and the disconnect between our democratic aspirations and the harsh lived realities.

Much time will be spent between now and Sunday 2 June deliberating as the voting results begin to determine the scale of the governing party’s erosion of support and the emergence of new (and old voices including those sadly that created our lost decade, and the State Capture betrayal) voices in our seventh Parliament.

By next Thursday (6 June), the IEC is planning to have proclaimed the election results and the national and provincial seat allocations. The focus will narrowly be on the political parties, their promises, the winners and the losers but very little will be spent on the communities and the living conditions of the people of this country.

As South Africa embarks on this next chapter, we simply cannot continue to ignore the lived reality of millions of South Africans. Election cycles and the use of more than 23,293 voting districts fleetingly highlight the real challenge that far too many must contend with; not just into the early hours of the morning for voting but must endure every single day. DM

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