I'm a citizen in a democratic country called South Africa and yet I can't vote in
the next general election. Prisoners can vote, but I, with no criminal record, can't.
Cabinet ministers under suspicion of corruption and State Capture can vote. Every
citizen in South Africa who has registered to vote can on 8 May vote for the future
of their country. I can't, because I am in London performing a show at the Soho Theatre.
It will be a shame to miss the excitement and pride one feels when queueing up to
vote at the Church Hall in Darling where I am registered.
So when I realised that for the first time since turning 18 I would be in another
hemisphere on voting day, I contacted the IEC to find out how to use a special vote.
“Oh,” they said, “you will be in London on 8 May? Well, you can vote there on 27
“No,” I answered, “I will still be in South Africa.”
“Ah,” they ah’ed, “then you can vote on the 5th and 6th of May.”
“No,” I sighed, “by then I will be in the United Kingdom.”
“Oh,” they oh’ed, “then you can’t vote.”
Really? In 2019? What about a postal vote?
“No,” they sighed sadly, “we don’t have confidence in that institution. The post
office would be fine if we were voting now for 2024.”
“No,” they laughed, “we don’t have that system — yet.”
“But, with respect, if the IEC has opened voting arrangements in a cluster of overseas
cities, what’s to stop them from opening offices in four of the major South African
cities as well on that 27 April date? What a way to celebrate Freedom Day!”
“No,” they sighed, “the computer says no.”
Elections have always been a reason for me to encourage voter education through theatre.
Especially after the 1994 experience, it was a logical step in 1999 to take six weeks
and travel from Cape Town to then-still-called Pietersburg in a kombi with Evita
Bezuidenhout on a Great Election Trek. We stopped twice a day in city halls, school
halls, churches, shebeens and under trees to present an entertainment about democracy
and the vote, with humour.
Is voting funny? Not until you find out you can’t vote because your democratically-elected
government couldn’t be bothered to facilitate your need. For six weeks we carried
the message across the nation: the vote is sacred; the vote is secret. Don’t be blackmailed
by any political party. If they threaten you — “Vote for us or we’ll burn down your
house!” — just lie. Shout: yes, Amandla, awethu, aluta continua. Or whisper: Vrystaat!
Because when you are in that little booth with pen in hand, you draw your cross wherever
you like and no one will know. No one should know, unless you want to get a job in
the new government.
Knowing that there are still six-million unregistered young voters out there who
will not benefit from the commitments on 8 May needs some very serious rethinking.
Our youth all have access to cell phones, i-phones, smartphones or even your phone.
They can order food, music, friendship, sex and opinions without having to queue.
Why should, or would, they bother to go back in time and stand in a dusty place so
that they can register to vote? And would they then go back on voting day and stand
in another queue to vote? Now that postal services have diminished, the use of carrier
pigeons might be that new way to send IEC messages. So let’s just make sure that
what we have works.
The big boys promise service delivery as usual. The red berets have copyrighted eccentric
marketing to entertain a bored populace. I hope they all get enough votes to have
representation in Parliament. Don’t let us just allow Julius Malema and his red ants
to hug the limelight, with some occasional hip-hop cheers from the DA. I want to
see Hlaudi the Horrible on the benches. I want to hear Jimmy Manyi reminding us that
he is no longer the idiotic Jimmy we knew. I want the Black First Land First Brain
Last leader to grace us with his racist vomits. Not to forget a right-wing wave to
the FF+ (which still sounds like a cheap condom brand) and a slow wink at the ancient
regime of the old Zulu prince.
We might have coalitions in Parliament this time round. The sulking ANC with a bloody
nose could now go into that alliance with the smiling EFF. I won’t say I told you
so, but ever since Julius was booted out of the ANCYL, I just knew that this was
going to be the beginning of a new relationship.
“Juju? Let’s make a deal. We kick you out of the party. You grow cabbages and get
the sympathy from the people. Then you start your Eff-off party. We’ll pay for the
funny costumes. Get the disenchanted youth on your side. Insult us. Call us names.
That’s okay. Keep the hate speech for the whites. Then when our voter support subsides
below 50% and you rise above 15%, we’ll go into a new deal, a new dawn. We’ll keep
the Presidency and create a Premier post for the EFF Commander-in-Chief.” (To fill
in the spaces here, just Google: Weimer Republic and Hindenberg/Hitler Alliance 1933.)
In the Western Cape, another alliance might push the DA, which once held the trust
of the province in the palm of its hand, into the Dunce’s Corner. A revived local
ANC-EFF alliance with a GOOD nudge from Auntie Pat might free South Africa of a white/beige/light-brown/fringed-with-black
opposition. It’ll beat Game of Thrones or any reality TV show. Damn! I’m going to
miss all that.
All I will have to feed my fun is BBC/SKY/Aljazeera/CNN overdosing on Brexit, Trump,
the European Elections, a pending Polish dictatorship, which together with Hungary,
could make some of the Marvel Comic baddies come true.
Looking at the real world of growing populism, reinvented fascism, conservative ranting
and absurd politics, I realise that it is not only satire that is giving its last
gasps. The end of the world as we know it for half a century is making way for the
mock in democracy and the con in reconciliation. Every democracy eventually deserves
the government it gets with the result that often those who don’t vote hold the balance
of power. We escaped that in 1994 with Mandela holding our one hand, while in 2007
we proved it with Zuma holding the other. Lazy support of democracy has allowed the
negative energies to surface, and if 8 May doesn’t deliver power to those who can
wield it for the people and not the pocket, we will wake up too late to fix it.
I can’t vote. You can vote. Do your job as a citizen and be proud of making a difference
for the better.