When the last election poster goes down three months after this election, not much will still matter to the man on the street – not What Mmusi Maimane said about the ANC, or what Jacob Zuma said about racism and the DA, nor what Malema has said about everyone else. Only one thing will matter: whether you made your mark or not. No. Rather, if you made your mark. If you took the trouble to make it to the polling station. Hail or no hail, Muslim or Christian, the poll gives each of us the licence to blow our top when the municipalities mess up.
On the day of the 2009 national elections, my family and I made our way to the poll at about six in the evening. Our thinking was that the queue wouldn’t be as long as it had been in the morning or earlier in the afternoon. It turned out that most people in my area of the East Rand had thought in exactly the same way. The queue was still long, but I chose to wait it out. There was no way I would deny myself the opportunity to rub shoulders with a few fossils of the old South Africa. Those who had said ‘No’ till the end – the descendants of the Conservative Party.
We all queued peacefully together. We had all come out to make our mark in the “most tightly contested” elections since 1994. Little did I know then that would become the defining feature of all elections that took place after that: the “most tightly contested”.
Halfway through our wait, it was announced that the voting station had run out of ballot papers. Then the moaning started.
“I told you this country is going the way of Mugabe-land”.
“This is a ploy to make sure Mugabe wins”.
I swear, if I’d closed my eyes it would have been easy to believe I was standing at a polling station in central Harare. Some obviously inebriated gentleman who had no business being near a polling station kept talking in the loudest voice possible, ensuring that those he was addressing himself to in that queue got the message.
“We used to vote here before this democracy nonsense and none of this stuff used to happen. They took over the country and look now”.
Far from discouraging me not to wait for the ballot papers, it added to my resolve. I now wanted those papers. I wanted to make sure that my wife and our helper got their turn to vote too.
See, like the drunk fellow, I too am a sentimental chap. I remember the days that the inebriated gentleman remembered. Only, our vantage point was different. He remembered how good things were, how smoothly things ran and how they would never run out of ballot papers. I remembered my first long wait in that queue to vote in 1994. I got to the polling station at 5am for a polling station that was to open almost two hours later. I got to vote five hours later. But I wasn’t going to miss that moment for anything in the world.
My vantage point of how things were back in the day differed substantially to what he recalled as the “good old days”. I was quite moved by the idea that I had in my hands that day the power to fulfil what had, for many people, been a costly struggle. I was quite aware that lives had been lost for me to partake in that first election.
So when the Mugabe comments began in the 2009 election queue, I was more than ready for them. More ready than all Donald Trump supporters put together. It did occur to me that I should try to find out if the election rule that a clearly drunk person can’t be allowed to vote still stood. But then it occurred to me that this democracy thing works better with everyone taking part. Even the moaning brigade. Who knows, Mr Inebriated and myself could end up voting for the same party. I doubt we did though.
On Wednesday, the 3rd of August, I intend to make my way to the polls again. Even though the national chorus on the streets of the middle class in this country seems to be much the same (“we are headed the way of Mugabe-land”), I still earnestly believe we must all make our mark. We must honour those who fought for us to have the right to moan and still vote.
Those always going on about how bad things are can do that, yet still vote. They will not be made to disappear, or be detained without trial on trumped-up charges or forced into exile. They will vote in exactly the same way that old lady in Alexandra township is going to vote. But she will not be complaining about how bad things are, she will be voting to show how grateful she is that her RDP house sheltered her from the storm this week. That she will be going to bed on the day of the election unafraid that she will be woken up at midnight with cries of “the hostel dwellers are coming for us”.
Whatever your reasons or motivation, getting out there to vote is the right thing to do. In the words of a social media acquittance: “I also want to say that, given the price paid by tens of thousands, to make a democratic vote available to all, we all have a moral obligation not only to vote, but to sit down and consider who for, and why. Inky pinky is not respectful of the sacrifice made by people like Ashley Kriel and the like. In fact, I was still burying apartheid victims in the KZN civil war two years after democracy. Could we please use our vote to honour those who had to die so unnecessarily. ALL those who died.”