In just a week, the country takes part in one of the most important rituals of any democratic society: elections.
Some people are even saying these are going to be the most important elections since 1994.
Whether or not that’s true, there’s no denying that the right to vote is one of the most cherished in any democracy, especially in ours where there are still people alive who remember what it was like to exist under a brutal regime where such a right was denied.
Given that people literally fought and died to bring us this right, it’s not surprising that whenever elections come along, there’s always calls from every side to get as many people voting as possible.
And, just as frequently, there’s always the lamentation that the voter turnout is not as high as it should be.
This is fair enough, I guess. Voting is often seen as the most direct way for citizens to get their voices heard, a way to finally punish or reward politicians for their performance over the last five years.
However, w I’ve always found the moralising around voting to be a little misinformed. When people lash out at those that who decide to sit elections out, they often overlook the many legitimate reasons that people may have for not voting.
Quick disclaimer: I am registered to vote, I intend to vote, and I even know which party I’m voting for.
Back to the main point.
Just as there are many reasons to vote, there are many equally valid reasons not too.
Poverty, for example, can play a big role in determining whether or not someone is capable to vote.
Despite being a fundamental right, voting can be an expensive process. In order to register, you need a valid ID document – either an ID book, smart ID card, or certified temporary ID – and obtaining one can be really inconvenient or expensive.
We’ve all seen the massive queues outside the home affairs office. , I’m sure.
There’s also the issue of voting stations, which may not be accessible to many. If you live in a particularly isolated area, the nearest voting station may be many kilometrers away and you may simply not have the money to spend on transport.
Now these are reasons people may be prevented from voting due to circumstance, but what about the people who are fully capable of voting but make the conscious decision not to?
We tend to write these people off as apathetic, especially if they belong to the dreaded “youth” bracket. But that in itself is a reductive view of things.
Much as we may disagree, the fact is that there are plenty of reasons why someone may want to deliberately sit elections out.
For one, they see not voting as a form of protest.
Daily Maverick journalist Nkateko Mabasa said he has no intention of voting because “it is only by refusing to participate in the electoral process entirely that political parties will listen to the demands of voters”.
According to Mabasa, voters, especially young voters – are advised to simply pick whichever party has “the smallest of smallanyana skeletons”, also known as the lesser of two (or more) evils.
“How low our standards have dropped and how far have we descended in our lack of moral clarity, all in the quest of securing a system that we can all see is broken and beyond repair.”
There are many others who share Mabasa’s views, with entire communities sometimes declaring their refusal to vote in protest of issues such as like lack of service delivery.
The effectiveness of this tactic is a debate for another day but it’s certainly not something done out of mere apathy.
There are also those who simply don’t find any of the political parties on offer to be appealing or properly representative of their interests.
This might seem hard to believe in a time where there are more than over 400 registered parties in the country, but the fact is that there will always be those who that simply don’t believe that any of the options offer acceptable solutions.
In such a situation, it would be unfair then to demand these people vote for something or someone which they either don’t personally believe in or even actively disagree with.
In the end, not voting is just as much a political decision as voting. Rather than brush those people off as merely apathetic, we should instead try and understand what causes them to not vote in the first place.