Thursday, 8 May 2014

South Africa's Election 2014: Where casting your vote really means something

We've come a long way: South Africa, 1957
WARNING: This was written before dumped ballots were found in four separate locations in Gauteng.

NO nation on earth loves an election more than South Africa. Understandable really, give the way things were in this country before 1994.

The gathering at Irene Primary School on Election Day 2014 was considerable. My local polling booth coped admirably with a substantial queue of about 400 at 8.30am yesterday morning. The atmosphere was good.

Centurion is no Bekkersdal. Like Sandton is to Johannesburg, Centurion is the up-market satellite town for Tshwane/Pretoria - you're unlikely to find many fiery revolutionaries on the golf estates and office parks.

But still, long queues. Simply to write X on a piece of paper. This was a first. I left South Africa in 1985, so like the "born-frees" in their 20th year, I was a first-time voter in the Rainbow Nation. But I made my X frequently during my self-imposed 25-year exile in the United Kingdom, where I was a parish councillor, the only non-Conservative in my village.

But it's nothing like here. I suspect there's nowhere quite like South Africa to cast your vote. A feeling of achievement, involvement. Obvious, given the vast majority were denied that right under Apartheid.

I posted the picture above in an attempt to shake the born-frees of every color out of their comfort zone. It was retweet over 200 times last time I checked. That's the kind of day it was yesterday. A time to remember what has gone before, a time to choose what goes on in future.

Voting started late in many areas, booths were forced to stay open after 9pm in others as the queues grew. Many nations would LOVE to have people turn up in such numbers, with such enthusiasm.

Shake on it: trouble-spot Bekkersdal yesterday
Perhaps it's time to highlight why South Africa's vibrant young democracy stands out from the rest. I've tried to list the main differences HERE:

1: People will travel vast distances to vote. Many workers spent much of Tuesday travelling home to their local villages to make sure X marked the spot. It's almost biblical, this rush back to the old rural home. Not sure of it happening anywhere else in the world in such numbers.

2: The police in evidence yesterday weren't aggressive, surly, "jobs-worths" as we call them in the UK. At my polling station, they moved along the line, encouraging, advising - pointing out that nearby stations were queue-free and available. The same can be said for the IEC officials. Patient, understanding.

3: A real respect for the institution pervaded the day. Nobody took a look at the queues and shrugged, walking away. Every color and class had their duty to do. Speaking to everyone from waiters and car guards to business executives, the message was the same and the indelible mark was on the thumb.

Worrying: dumped ballot papers (all in favour of DA) found in Pretoria
Not everyone will have experienced the same, I guess. But that's how it felt yesterday… a nation happy to get out there and do their thing. Me? I went for the Economic Freedom Fighters nationally, I've met Julius Malema, bit Orlando Pirates fan, liked him. Provincially, I went for Musi Maimane, seems a good sort.

As I write, the results are much as we expected them to be. Agang, pummeled in the polls after Mamphela Ramphela's public fall-out with Helen Zille's DA, claim to have discovered subterfuge (the picture below shows her confrontation). Others - including opposition leader Zille - complained about disorganization and she was not alone.

Whaaaat?! Mamphela Ramphela yesterday
But generally the IEC seems to have done the job - until four separate cases of dumped ballot boxes cropped up in Diepsloot, Alexandra and Lynwood, east of Tshwane last night.

It won't stop the train. The ANC will romp in, though the weight of President Jacob Zuma's lack of leadership will be felt. The DA will finish a distant second, strengthened but still not perceived as a party for the future in a South Africa unlikely to return to a white president any time soon.

And Julius Malema's EFF got their slice of the pie, enough to poke the self-satisfied but historically immovable African National Congress in to some kind of anti-corruption process that will probably see Zuma sidelined in the not-too-distant future.

Ultimately, South Africa's Election Day 2014 offers exactly what it should: A shining example of how democracy SHOULD work, with 29 parties on offer for all shades of political opinion. Blimey, Julius and his EFF even got FOUR votes in Oranje, the Afrikaner enclave!

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