Don't complain if you do not vote

When you cast your vote on August 3, you should think beyond incessant sniping between the parties, writes Ryland Fisher.

The local government elections were never meant to be about Jacob Zuma, Mmusi Maimane or Julius Malema. They were never meant to be about Nelson Mandela and who has the right to claim his legacy.

The elections are supposed to be about service delivery at the most important level of government, often referred to as the coalface.

When you cast your vote next week, as I hope you will, you should think beyond the posters bearing the faces of political leaders and the incessant sniping between the parties.

It is easy to treat Wednesday as a day to catch up on shopping, watch a television series, or have a braai with family and friends. You should not necessarily exclude any of these activities, but you should spend some time joining the queues at your local polling station to make your mark.

And when you are there, instead of worrying about national politics only, ask yourself whether the people in control of your municipality, or more specifically your ward, are doing a decent job of making sure your rubbish is picked up, your potholes fixed, dealing with crime in your area and the many other things for which councillors are expected to take responsibility.

If not, then maybe s/he does not deserve your vote. If yes, maybe s/he deserves another chance, irrespective of his/her political party.

Ask yourself where your candidate has been in the years since the last election. Have you seen him at community gatherings, has she been part of the neighbourhood watch? Have you seen her at church services, at school sports matches? Or have you seen his/her face for the first time on a poster imploring you to vote for change, or continuity.

Of course, we cannot get away from the national issues, even though this is a local government election. This is South Africa, after all, and everything is always wrapped in everything else.

We cannot wish away Nkandla and its associated problems, or the SABC and SAA sagas; or the DA’s flagrant abuse of Nelson Mandela’s legacy in a cheap attempt to score political points. We cannot wish away that the EFF was formed by someone who was undisciplined as an ANC member and who is now asking us to trust him with running our municipalities.

We cannot run away from the fact our country is still much racialised in the way it was under apartheid, and will probably be for a long time to come.

Every election, those of us who were in the trenches fighting against apartheid have questions about our allegiances and many of us consider whether we should vote at all.

I was grappling with this from the first democratic election in 1994, when I looked at the list of candidates of the only party for which I would consider voting at the time, the ANC. I did not like many of the names on the list because they were people I knew and I knew their weaknesses.

But I thought I had fought so long and hard for the right to vote that I needed to exercise this right. So I voted for the first time at the age of 34 in Kensington, Johannesburg, accompanied by my wife and my daughter, who was a few months old.

Twenty-two years later and my daughter is a beautifully grown-up woman and can now vote for the second time - she voted for the first time in the national elections - and I owe it to her and her generation to continue my voting tradition.

How can I implore them to vote and make a difference to society if I am not prepared to do the same? I know there are people who say one vote does not make a difference, but it does.

If everyone decided not to vote, we would have serious problems and you cannot complain if you did not use your right to vote.

So then the difficult issue: who to vote for? It is not for me, or anyone else, to tell you on whom you should use one of your most precious commodities in a democracy but you need to think about who and which party can make a difference in your life and the lives of the people who matter to you.

At ward level, it is sometimes easier because, if you know your councillor and you know s/he has been working, you would not have difficulty supporting them on that basis and not necessarily based on the party they represent. They could well be independent. Some independents have been known to work very well for their constituents.

It becomes more difficult when it comes to the proportional vote, where you have to choose the party you wish to represent your interests in the council. Your choices do not have to be the same on the proportional and the ward lists. In the Western Cape, we have more than 60 parties contesting the elections. I hope the IEC did not have to fit all their names on one ballot paper in all the areas.

But here is where the national profile of the parties and their leaders become important and you need to look at the performance of parties in municipalities that they’ve controlled before making up your minds.

It is difficult to do this for some parties, because they don’t control municipalities - yet - so you have to consider, based on what they promise, whether they will be able to deliver.

I will be making my mark on Wednesday. Who I will vote for is not yet decided and will probably only be decided when I look at the ballot paper in the voting station. But vote I will, and you should too.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 30 July 2016)