OPINIONISTA

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar: The election should reflect the voice of the people

We will have to endure the painful process of electioneering as political parties ready themselves for the 2019 election battle. In 2019, South Africa will mark 25 years of democracy and freedom, with much to be celebrated. But is should also be a year to call on South Africans to continue fighting for that democracy. This election should be a reminder of how many South Africans continue to be trapped in cycles of abuse, violence and poverty (where that triple threat has become a hereditary cycle).

A great deal more must be done by South Africans to confront these collective challenges, but specifically, more should be demanded from our political parties, especially as they will be seeking our votes. It is also a year to remember that we are burdened with the reality that our political parties are often ill-suited to serve the interests of citizens.

Parties are busy putting on the performance of democracy — playing at the idea of democracy, but failing to reflect the foundational values reflected in our Constitution. South Africa must do a great deal more to entrench democracy.

The upcoming (and final) voter registration weekend will take place from 26 to 27 January 2019, and this weekend will capture the attention of political parties as they seek to splice the data and interpret the possible trends leading up to the provincial and national elections. The focus of the parties will be to ensure that as many (of their) potential voters register to vote to secure their own campaign victories. South Africans in their droves must continue to exercise their voices and more South Africans must be encouraged to register to vote. However, I do question the need to dangle a Suzuki Swift as a carrot, and seriously question the follow-up call made by that political party to a “born-free” South African (who happens to be my brother), encouraging him to ensure he registers in a particular ward (where a recent by-election has suggested a decline in their support), and thereafter proceeding to encourage him to vote for them as they continue to run their so-called Superpower campaign.

The issue that will arrest political parties leading up to the provincial and national election will simply be about winning votes, and about providing a compelling story to lobby for votes from South Africans. Our political parties, as they have before, will do anything in order to secure the vote and to mobilise every voter that will commit to supporting their particular vision of what South Africa needs.

Much time will be spent on the launching of manifestos, the blanketing of stadiums, the erection of billboards (and in some instances the tearing down of billboards), as well as the pole-collar posters that will criss-cross South Africa. All of this reflecting a particular show of force that will be covered ad nauseam by newspapers, broadcasters and analysts with the notion that the particular show of force is indicative of the mood of the nation, and the outcome of the elections all somehow tell the story of what South Africa needs.

South Africa and its citizens require a meaningful answer to a number of issues. South Africans need to see a vision of a capable and responsive State that is able and committed to serving its people.

South Africans need to know that their government and its representatives will commit to confronting issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment. South Africans need to know that their government will begin the hard work of rebuilding (and re-capacitating) the state so that it can answer the call by South Africans. South Africans need to know that their public representatives and civil servants will be held accountable. South Africans need to know that those responsible for State Capture and looting will be held accountable and that they will be prosecuted. South Africans need to know that their government is capable of responding to issues of patriarchy and misogyny and that they will do a lot more than simply committing to a slogan when confronting violence and abuse against women and children.

The 2019 provincial and national election is not a time for historical or collective amnesia, but rather this is the year that South Africans must seize the narrative. This should be an election year not informed by the number of pole-collar posters or billboards plastered with the well-honed (and researched) messaging of our political parties.

This should be an election year that reflects the voice of the people — it should be a year in which citizens determine what matters. We should not be bamboozled into believing that a show of force is a sufficient indicator of our democracy. This should not be a year of theatrics and the related paraphernalia, but instead, a year in which South Africans reflect long and hard on those who were elected to serve in our Parliament and provincial legislatures.

It will be easy to fall back to the bad habits of simply measuring our democracy by the theatrics staged by our political parties or by the usual indicators of democracy. However, we all know that the richness and depth our democracy is not simply reflected in the act of voting (or registering to vote), and that the sacrosanct truth is all citizens have a custodial duty — to act and to have our voices heard.

Our vote is not an act in isolation, but rather it is the exercise of our voice off the backs and shoulders of many men and women that sacrificed so much in order to secure the vote and the freedom that is reflected in our constitutional democracy.

We all know that these elections will reflect a heightened degree of fear-mongering (which we already see), populism (that continues to push us to extremes), sensational claims and missteps, which will be highlighted in this whirlwind election season for all to see.

Millions of party political T-shirts will be printed, banners, posters, billboards and soundbites will be deployed and executed. The duty and responsibility of demanding more from our political parties reside with the citizens of this country.

South Africans will have to fight in order to be heard. The status quo and machinery of elections in South Africa may encourage us to forget our voice, but it will be our responsibility to remind the political machinery that South Africans have serious concerns and that they are already weighed down, burdened and oppressed, and that no billboard, T-shirt or manifesto is going to fix that. DM

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