/ 24 May 2024

Editorial: Vote with your head this year

People’s power: Voters wait at a polling station outside the hostels in Umlazi, Durban. Voting remains critical to bring about the change desired. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP

It was only a decade ago that we first asked readers to consider voting against the ANC.

The Mail & Guardian proudly — if sometimes tentatively — supported the party in democracy’s first three elections, sold on the promise of its new South Africa. By 2009 that confidence had frayed. In the following election, 2014, the failings of the previous 20 years had become untenable — we urged you to vote “tactically to dilute ANC power”.

In 2019, we rallied against apathy. The political elite of all party colours had exposed themselves as a rapacious, scheming class. We reminded readers that despite a dearth of reasonable options, the fight for freedom is not a static one and carries a hefty responsibility.

“So, vote we must, be it for a party or in a spoilt ballot,” we wrote. “Anything else would be a dereliction of liberty.”

This time, we are going to ask considerably more of you. This time, showing up is not enough.

Uncertainty has overtaken suspicion, and forecasting has become a fool’s prerogative.

We said in 2014 that “no one doubts that … the ANC will still command a majority”. A decade on, everyone, including the party itself, has doubts. More importantly, we have no precedent for how the loss of that majority will play out. We know it will mean a coalition government. But what form or who will be in that coalition is something we can only speculate on at this point. Our experience, at local level at least, suggests it will not be frictionless.

Coalition talks threaten to turn dangerously convoluted. Political leaders, as they are wont to do, will discuss among themselves and about themselves. 

Rather than surrendering ourselves to the maelstrom, it is incumbent on us to assume command of our political reality. We must take a thoughtful vote. It must be an educated vote, one informed by what candidates stand for and their records in turning their words into action.

It’s all there. For as much as the electoral trail can feel like a circus at times, a lot can be gleaned from how parties have communicated over the last year — through both popular rhetoric and official manifesto.

As a publication, we have endeavoured to bring it all to your fingertips, buttressed with our analysis and critique. That was our responsibility. 

Your responsibility is to understand what the gleaming logos on your ballot paper stand for and cast your vote accordingly.

When the numbers are in, and talks of compromise begin to leak, it will be up to the South African people to hold the newly elected accountable; to demand that they do not renege on promise or policy.

We can’t tell you who to vote for — or even any party to vote against. Arriving at a considered decision is your democratic duty.