Voting is supposed to be a joyous thing. In the privacy of a cardboard booth you make your mark and so perform the most basic act of citizenship, closing the circle of correspondence between the governors and the governed that underwrites our freedom.
But voting, even at the best of times, is difficult. Representative democracy is beset with compromises, which voters must navigate as they make their choices. Good policies, bad people; good people, weak parties; confusing mixtures of both; and too often the complete absence of plausible options.
These are not the best of times, or the simplest, and South Africans, for better, but perhaps more often for worse, have very little experience in elections and their consequences.
We are politically educated and politically engaged, and we care fiercely about the big issues — delivery, the economy, crime, HIV and the rule of law — as well as the small — sports, our neighbourhoods, street names.
In the past three democratic elections, however, it has often seemed that once we arrive in the voting both we don’t so much enact a political choice as live out a political identity. ”I am a progressive white person,” one person might say, ”if I vote for any party other than the ANC I will be repeating the sins of my ancestors.” Or ”Helen Zille looks and sounds like me, Mangosuthu Buthelezi does not”. Or ”Zuma comes from a rural area like me, and with the country under his stewardship my life will improve”.
As long as we continue to choose our leaders this way we will continue to get the democracy we deserve: an impoverished, narrow thing defined by the limits of identity politics.
The M&G is not endorsing any party this election year. What we are endorsing is a victory of active choice over submission to the working out of political identities frozen in place after 1994.
The best possible way to make a choice is to look for the ways in which parties balance the extraordinary demands placed on them by a Constitution that proposes an intricate symbiosis between ”classical” democratic principles such as the rule of law, free speech and an independent Parliament, with the socio-economic rights that are so important to giving those concepts meaning.
Electoral choice should be about identifying how parties express that balance in policy, personality and conduct.
We are faced with an ANC that, for all its sound policies, has replaced one dreadful leader with another and taken the country to the brink with its internal battles. The DA is struggling to remake itself as a non-racial liberal party, for all its leader’s determination; Cope is a foundling child unsure of its Âraison d’Ãªtre; while the IFP, Independent Democrats and United Democratic Movement appear to be shrinking even within their regional power bases.
We have never had a tougher choice, or a more important one. The temptation on Wednesday will be to retreat into old postures, safe from the brave new complexity we face, but we all need to do more than that and, when the count is in, to keep doing it.
If you need a bit of help, visit our online poll predictor at elections.mg.co.za/pollpredictor. You may be surprised at what you find out.
The apex of our aspiration
The scary thing about our next president’s views on the Constitutional Court is that they are probably genuinely naÃ¯ve rather than wilfully destructive.
Jacob Zuma told the Star: ”If I sit here and I look at a chief justice of the Constitutional Court, you know, that is the ultimate authority, which I think we need to look at it because I don’t think we should have people who are almost like God in a democracy… Are they not human beings? I don’t want to debate that now, but at the right time I’m keen to engage them before the issue becomes public.”
Judged on these comments Zuma hasn’t got a clue about our constitutional democracy, or about the role of judges in a constitutional framework.
The founding concept of the role of the courts as a check on Âunconstitutional laws or conduct is foreign to him.
In particular, Zuma does not understand why judges are not subject to the will of the majority ”in a democratic setting”.
Because, as he points out, judges make mistakes — presumably unlike the ANC, which Zuma has insisted will rule until Jesus returns.
This is populism of the most dangerous kind.
For ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa to try to suggest that Zuma’s comments amount merely to a plea for judges to remain politically neutral is entirely disingenuous.
He says Zuma was responding to the statement attributed to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who told guests at his birthday party: ”I want to use my energy to help create an equal society. It’s not what the ANC wants or what the delegates want: it is about what is good for our people.” What’s wrong with that? It’s no more than a commitment to serve the people and not the party.
While we don’t want gods at the court, we certainly want men and women of steely determination who understand that the separation of powers is more than the geographical distance between party headÂquarters at Luthuli House and the proud Constitutional Court that stands, in Braamfontein, at the apex of our aspiration.