Voting is basic and only a basic wouldn’t vote
Words: Phumlani Pikoli | Illustrations: Kelly Poole
The whole idea of voting for me is a pretty wild one. I’ve only exercised the right out of guilt for the purely symbolic participatory act of democracy. I have parents that are/were members of the ruling party who decided at ages far younger than I to put their lives on the line for this basic right. I call it basic in comparison to the complexity of the politics surrounding it.
Here’s a breakdown of how I’ve approached voting in the past:
One: You’ve gotta figure out your personal bullshit and try find where you stand as a human being, then you’ve gotta peel back the layers on your own surroundings and personal feelings and attachments to materials, find out where all that comes from or why there’s stuff other kids have that you might not.
Two: Now you gotta find words that can neatly package these ideas of your life. Generally learning history helps. You know the French Revolution? You know the 1913 Land Act? Nah? Get yourself some context and keep it moving. You gotta sit with books and read theories and somehow apply these observations to your own context. This gets tricky cause now you’ve gotta be consistent with many things that don’t add up in your daily life. Which is to say there are many contradictions that you’ve gotta try figure out that don’t make sense, like: all you hear nowadays is how digital is the future, yet local governments have taken very few steps to make internet freely and widely accessible?
Three: Once you’ve lined up all the above, look at everything that you don’t have and try find people who might be willing to take your needs seriously. Then check out some manifestos and see who comes the closest to being able to provide what you need. Who would be the most willing to listen to you? This is how you choose a party. The people who come the closest to what you’ve aligned your needs with and will act accordingly to ensure that you get to live your best life.
Four: Do the logistics. Register on time. Wake up, get dressed, don’t forget your ID book at home, get to the voting station and drop that X with the provided pen.
At the same time though, I keep looking back at last year as the beginning of a new era in this highly esteemed democracy of ours. Watching the kids organise themselves and fight for the things they needed set something inside me a flame. Registering the unbridled rage that comes with being able to remove barbed wire fencing with your bare hands at the union buildings was an uncomfortable confrontation with myself. The complaints I’ve had about being a black youth have a very different colour to that of the TUT kids I watched storming the steps towards Mandela’s outstretched arms. It was hard for me to define the meaning of political freedom in the midst of their struggle.
The only problem with the student movements outside of the liberal white media lens they were filtered through, was that they suddenly turned the South African youth into a homogenous mass. Suddenly to be considered youth, you have to be in varsity as a student. Sizwe Nxasana wrote an article in which he highlighted the fact that the participation of young people in higher education between 20-24 had only risen to 19.5 % in 2013. Even if that number has risen, it will still be negligible in comparison to the number of young people who aren’t students. One of our biggest challenges is being able to address issues affecting these young people outside of formalised structures, and then giving them access to platforms to make their voices heard. What can be offered to them and how do we legitimately give them access to what they need?
I write this in the middle of a campaign #2X aimed at galvanising young people to engage with democratic processes. Formal and informal. We saw what happened when Rhodes fell, when Luthuli House was marched on, when bogus treason charges were made after the storming of parliament's gates and the 0% that came from burnt plastic toilets on national lawns. People are robust in their approaches to attain their rightful liberties. How do we make this as inclusive as possible without creating a hierarchy of the different issues that need to be addressed?
While travelling the country with the #2X team we’ve realised that different regions have different requirements. We’ve also come to realise that we rarely encounter youth political apathy. Rather a latent anger that sees different young people in different communities feeling left out of the decision making processes that directly involve them. The call for participation should be very sincere in seeking out representation. There are very many young active people on the ground who understand what their peers are looking for, far better than the people struggling to win their votes. Effectively young people should have representation in what they’re being asked to participate in. The rocket science behind this task seems to me completely misplaced.
So as August 3rd draws closer I keep trying to look around me to see what I have and need. My neighbourhood isn’t exactly upmarket but for the most part I have a lot more than my neighbours. So when considering my vote and who it’s going to go to, I can’t purely think of my personal convictions as I live in a community. Instead I need to consider who might best service my area to the benefit of the people I live with. If I don’t do that I’ll always be an outsider, vulnerable to my own insecurities.