It warmed my heart to see a 101-year-old gogo dancing and ululating her way to the polls. She reflected the same sense of freedom and joy I had when I voted for the first time in my 40s in 1994.
Sadly, many young people I have spoken to simply refuse to vote and do not realise the gravity of the struggle we all have been a part of to become citizens of the country of our birth, a right denied the majority of South Africans for decades.
Reasons given range from “it will make no difference”, to “politicians are scum”. Many also stated quite cockily that “it is my choice” and “it is my secret”, as though those were one and the same thing.
When I explained the Bill of Rights and what it means to be free and that we are now free even to destroy ourselves, the penny seemed to drop. I tell them: “You can’t fix stupid but you can vote it out” – and there is plenty of stupid around.
The capacity to use one’s voice is a gift bequeathed to us by the constitution and we dare not take it for granted. Voting is our right and our right to appropriate power to speak out about what is wrong and to change it.
The more I pursued this argument, it became crystal clear that civic education in schools is failing, and worse, that teachers and lecturers have no idea why children and young people need to be educated about democracy, electoral systems, opposition, parliament, government, the constitution and Bill of Rights.
I have experienced this national ignorance in many training sessions and young people are not to blame. It is the lack of citizen education in institutions that matter. National politics also leaves much to be desired.
When our youth feel that their vote will not change the status quo then they resort to violence. Students, who should be at the forefront of inspiring other youth to vote, are the most cynical – demonstrated by the millions of rands wasted on trashing and burning campuses.
Juxtaposed against this, I was disheartened that the young women working for a store at a famous Cape Town outlet, so much wanted to vote but were compelled to work until 6pm. These were mostly black women who would need to rush home after work and who will, in all likelihood, not make it to the polling station.
One young woman looked deep into my soul when she told me that she so much wanted to vote but “has no time to do it”. Her colleagues quietly agreed but said nothing, fully aware of the consequences should they complain.
Businesses should be made to realise that the public holiday is meant for people to vote first and foremost and that their profits are of secondary importance. I would appeal to the Independent Electoral Commission to embark on a national campaign to educate businesses of the rights of the voiceless and the poor that voting is a basic right to change the way they live.
All the freedoms we enjoy today came off the backs of the disenfranchised who endured all kinds of human rights violations, even death, to secure democratic rights for all.
If voting didn’t change anything we would still have no rights for black people; no rights for women; no rights to equality; and no sexual orientation rights – in brief, no Bill of Rights.