On Wednesday, millions of South Africans will once again exercise one of the most fundamental rights – the right to vote. Voting is the most powerful tool in the hands of citizens that they can use to make a meaningful difference to their lives.
This freedom is one of the most significant rights in a democracy. Chapter 2 of our constitution, section 19, sets out a detailed set of political rights, stating: “Every citizen is free to make political choices, which includes the right to form a political party; to participate in the activities of, or recruit members for, a political party; and to campaign for a political party or cause.”
The section also safeguards public participation by means of elections by stating: “Every citizen has the right to free, fair and regular elections for any legislative body established in terms of the constitution.
“Every adult citizen has the right to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the constitution, and to do so in secret.”
Our vote has a powerful impact on public policy and government. This won’t bring about the desired result if we do not vote. It is also the vital manner through which citizens can influence the quality of government. This liberty, which was denied to the majority of citizens by apartheid’s white minority regime, did not come cheaply.
Thousands of South Africans paid the ultimate price so that their fellow citizens would be free to select a government and public representatives of their choice.
We dare not take the right to vote for granted. A vote is more than just democracy in action. It puts direct power in the hands of every eligible voter to determine who will govern the country, provinces and municipalities. This time, South Africans go to the polls to determine who should lead their municipalities, arguably the most significant tier of government.
A record number of political parties and independent candidates will be vying for the support of more than 26 million registered voters in 257 municipalities. While this is remarkable, we remain concerned by pre-election violence and threats by a few disgruntled communities not to vote.
One such community is the volatile Limpopo region of Vuwani, which went up in flames earlier this year during protests. Dozens of schools were torched. And despite an agreement signed between government and local traditional leaders in the area last Thursday, some anarchists masquerading as community leaders are threatening to renege on the deal, claiming it is not binding.
They have even threatened violence during the polls, which the said residents would boycott. This is a destructive way of seeking change. Citizens can fix what is wrong in their communities by voting out their public representatives who have betrayed them by not keeping their promises.
When people don’t vote, their needs won’t be catered for, because their voices were silent. Violence and destruction of property are not only counterproductive and criminal, they they also take away from the public purse resources that could have been channelled elsewhere to deliver services.
Wednesday’s election will be the costliest this country has yet held. It has been characterised by widespread violence and destruction, most notably in Tshwane, where property to the value of hundreds of millions of rands went up in smoke in election-related protests.
Dozens of lives have also been needlessly lost, especially in violence-prone KwaZulu-Natal, where several candidates have been assassinated. Wednesday offers the electorate an excellent opportunity to come out in numbers to make a difference.
Your vote surely does makes the difference.