by Morongoa Selepe
We had the first democratic elections in South Africa on 27 April 1994, marking the end of apartheid. Voter turnout for these elections was overwhelming; voting stations were full, and long queues of people waited patiently to cast their votes. Exercising their right to vote, previously denied under the apartheid government. People did not need campaigns to persuade them to vote. They understood the impact their vote could make in deciding who governs the country, directly affecting their livelihoods. In South Africa, these were the first elections historically in which people of all races were allowed to participate.
Today, 29 years later, the picture is different. Voter turnout has been dropping. In 1998, 88% voter turnout was recorded; 76% in 2004; 77.3% in 2009; in 2014, 73.4%, and 65.3% in 2019, the lowest voter turnout in our history (www.thesouthafrican.com). As a result, many people, before elections, decide against voting. Several factors contribute to no-shows at polling stations on election day. The main ones are the lack of service delivery and trust in the current government, which has sold us lies at a very high cost.
SARS collection of tax is one of the few things in our country that works; the same cannot be said about the expenditure of the tax collected. Corruption is at its highest, especially in the different government departments, like public health services, that are meant to be helping the marginalised and poor. The public education system in previously disadvantaged areas could be improved. The unemployment rate is high, amongst graduates as well.
The South African Social Security Agency branches are flooded with social grant applications from people who could be active and willing participants in the economy if given a chance. People are not lazy; there is no work. Unemployed people are often encouraged to start small businesses and earn a salary, and many have done this. However, due to continuous load shedding, many of these small businesses have had to stop operating; the affordability of alternative energy supply is very challenging. Lawlessness in the country is alarming, criminals disregard the law, and there are no consequences; we have seen this countless times.
We are discouraged and feel helpless. What can we do? Well, for starters, we should vote! We should be aware of the power our voting carries. Voting allows us to choose and have a say on who we want in government. Although people often say the situation in our country will never change, it can and will change if we are active in making that change. We are not powerless. Young people, especially, must be encouraged to register to vote and then do so. With the national elections next year, now is the time to prepare. Learn about the different people and political party manifestos, pray and reflect on the person or group suitable for a government leadership role.
This voice that is our vote is not once off. We need to pray for the grace to be honest and admit when the people we have elected are ineffectual. We can then make a new sound by voting differently the next time we are called to choose and make our mark.