It remains one of the most exhilarating days of my life – April 27, 1994. Voting for the first time. And this image, one of the most enduringly significant for me.
Voting with all fellow black South Africans. Claiming our rights, not just to vote and to be represented, but to live freely, to stay, to move, to have access to all the resources of the land (theoretically), to love, to play, to be secure physically and in every other way, to be respected.
The moment of moving through a queue into a voting station, into the booth to make a tick was very quick, not only because the line in Helenvale was relatively short. I was part of a news team that had spread out across Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage from early in the day to monitor this critical moment in our history at the bottom tip of Africa.
Legal luminary Doc Somyalo ran a superb electoral process in our part of the country that ensured mostly respectful engagement across party political and community lines and in no way denied us the opportunity to be euphoric.
We knew the ANC would nail it hands down in the Eastern Cape. Those were halcyon days, days when we invested faith and goodwill in all those who purported to lead us. There were good policies coming out, legislative advances were rapid. And it behoves us to ensure that the history we lived through is not as easily revised as events in recent years suggest it is being re-written.
But we’ve grown up quickly since April 1994. We’ve become circumspect with our support, cynical even, not just of the ANC, but of all political parties and their leaders. The buggers have pulled one too many on us.
But have we done enough? Have I done enough with my vote? Have I said enough, spoken out enough against violations of our foundational principles? I wish I could say I have.
But that would be an outright denial of the reality that I’ve gone along with too much that is wrong in our country, nationally, provincially, in our local communities, in the state-owned companies, in businesses, in schools, universities, hospitals, on farms. As loudly as I assert my rights and point out the abusers, the incompetents, the crooks, that’s not nearly enough. I’ve been way too compliant, way too malleable.
We must be able to ensure greater accountability of political representatives to local communities. Until that happens at all levels of our government it is a lot more difficult to ensure that our politicians stay on the right track, work hard, stay honest, look beyond their own narrow interests or their party bosses’ interests. It’s not impossible to still have an effectively functioning system that looks out for local communities, but it is more difficult.
That is something I am committing to continuing to work towards.
And we must not be afraid to call out all those – especially outside of our elected representatives – who are going against all that we struggled for before 1994 and all that we hoped for on April 27 of that year.
But is that enough?
Can we do more now?
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