As we voted in South Africa in 1994 – many of us for the first time – I rather naively believed that it would take just a few years for everything in our beloved country to be hunky-dory, for apartheid injustices to be addressed, for respect to become the benchmark of our day-to-day engagement, for democratic ideals to be inculcated, for a thriving economy to be accessible to all. 

I was aghast when a close friend, with much deeper knowledge and experience of societal trauma and change, stated that we would have to wait at least 30 years after the end of apartheid, before the real work of healing and reconstructing our country could begin. 

But it became clear to me sooner rather than later, that we were in for a long journey. She had been  absolutely right. 

And she had based her prediction solely on her experience of other histories. She had no reason to consider that the ANC in government would generally be so self-serving, corrupt and useless as it has turned out to be.

Neither could she know how South Africans would fail so abysmally to grasp the opportunities to get to know one another across race, class, culture, religion, age, gender, political party lines. If it were not for our Constitution, which keeps us from giving expression to our baser preferences, we would cling even more to “our own” rather than grudgingly accepting, if not embracing, our non-racial and multicultural reality. 

(Except of course when donning Springbok shirts to support the national rugby team – I noticed a few shirts popping up as South Africans voted at embassies across the world – the most bizarre reflection of a national consciousness on any day, including an election one.)

The reality of this 2024 election, is that no magic wands will be waved. It is merely the first step of many that we must take to break the monopoly on national political power, to stop the abuse that we face daily from politicians and officials, and BEGIN the process of changing our country’s reality.

In stating this, it is not to deny what we have achieved already, as slim as those achievements may appear against the gross failures that have accompanied them. Even after 30 years, we must accept that it will be many more years before the defining negative features of our country begin to recede.

There will be much horse-trading among political parties in the weeks, months, even years to come. We will have to live with the contradictions reflected in the outcomes of those processes. Deciding who we vote for in this election remains a conundrum, but we must do so with the end in mind. 

Of course, there are those political parties whose reasons for existence are anathema to the common good we seek in South Africa. 

I will not vote for racists, tribalists, rent-seekers, robbers, religious conservatives, xenophobes, the unethical, self-serving or useless. 

I will not vote for those who spit on the ideals of our Constitution, who want to return us to a pre-democracy, pre-freedom, feudal era. 

Nor will I vote for those who put party or organisational affiliation before principle and everything else, or who will think first of how they may secure a benefit for themselves and their associates. 

I will not vote for those who fail us every day in delivering the services that we reasonably expect to be provided by government departments & entities. 

I am voting for individual integrity.

And for the institutional and societal integrity that it anticipates. 

I am voting for those who will serve without thought for self.

And for leaders who can propose ways of getting us out of the morass that is our politics.

I am voting for fresh ideas for resolving the seemingly intractable problems that beset us. 

I am voting for the enduring principles which underscored our struggle under apartheid, which are today at the heart of our Constitution, and which must continue to guide us in the future.

I am voting for hope.

I am voting for change, now, and for much change still to come. 

Finally, I am also voting for the right of every South African to vote for whomever they prefer. 

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