MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Tips for the undecided voter


Campaign season is finally over. They have kissed babies, wiped the faces of the elderly, sat on floors of shacks, took delayed trains, opened fridges, offered money to buy food and fix bakkies, attended church services, built houses for a few poor families and showed off their good deeds.

That's what politicians from different parties have done since campaigning for votes began in March. Other political leaders simply resorted to scare tactics and overly criticised others instead of preaching about their promises.

Party leaders have presented their manifestos and promised you manna from heaven. Some of these promises are honestly mind blowing for their impossibility. From promising to double social grants payouts when there is no budget for such, to promises about ending the impunity of the corrupt while sending the same corrupt people to Parliament - voters have been fed an unbelievable mixture of political diets.

The gimmicks have now come to an end. PHEW!

But are you still confused about who to vote for?

It is not an easy decision, especially for those who are not loyal, dedicated and unflinching party supporters. And sadly, despite the number of political parties on the ballot increasing to 48, all of them are deeply flawed. But you still have a national duty to help decide the future of this country, make your voice heard about who should go to the provincial legislature and National Assembly.

Someone said for democracy to thrive we need an active and engaged nation. Voting is not only a right. It is our inherent responsibility equal to the right to demand to be governed into prosperity.

My advice to you is to undertake a process of elimination, and to borrow from a certain political choice of words: choose "the better devil" of our time. They may all be deeply flawed. But there is surely someone you believe to be the "least bad" of all? That should be your choice.

Unlike marriage, in elections you have the option to opt out of your choice every five years.

You don’t only have to vote for a party because you are deeply in love with them, but you can also strategically choose them for the greater good of our democracy. As you contemplate how to approach the elections, consider the following:

It’s good to read through manifestos or follow simplified versions in news reports. Try and find balance between the do-able and the pie in the sky. A party can speak to the issues that you believe are critical to move us forward either when it comes to economy, youth employment or women empowerment.

Hold those in power accountable:
Sometimes it’s not about voting for a party that will govern, but you can also vote for a party that can hold those in power accountable. Look around you - who is able to ask the right questions and keep in check the power of those in authority?

Multiplicity of voices:
In our country, we celebrate our diversity, and our counting system helps assure that minorities are never excluded. While the small parties end up with a minute's speaking time in Parliament or legislatures, they too should be heard and can contribute to building South Africa. Often they leave out the long speeches and get right to the point, proving more powerful.

Democracy within:
We are a democratic state, and should value the principles in all aspects of our lives. Some parties have failed this test by not holding internal elections or being bogged down by internal politics. Personally, I find it offensive - democratic values should be central to any party’s founding principles and existence. Go through the party’s founding principles and public actions - do they pass democratic muster required to lead?

Good governance:
Our prospects of a prosperous future are in part destroyed by corruption and self-serving politicians. Public service should still be about giving of yourself to your country and not robbing it blind. This can be a guiding principle when you approach the ballot box. Vote for someone who will not steal from us, or who will expose those who do.

Split vote:
Splitting your vote is not cheating. No one forces you to vote for the same party provincially and nationally.

Spoilt ballot:
I am not a believer in intentionally spoiling your ballot. Who are you sending your message of discontent to? No one is going to read your message and hear your cry unless done en masse with a clear message sent ahead of the polls. Yes, your spoilt ballot will be counted and the numbers released, but so what? We sometimes just interpret it as failure of election education rather than sending a political message. Rather record an angry vote - support even a party with the least chance of making it.

As former US first lady Michelle Obama said when motivating Americans to vote: “Believe me, I am frustrated too. I am sick of all the chaos and messiness of our politics. It’s exhausting, and frankly it’s depressing, so I understand wanting to shut it all out. But democracy continues with or without you.”

Please make sure it continues with you on Wednesday!

Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle