By: Selokela Molamodi
The 2021 local government elections were such an interesting way to enter the last bit of the year. After everything we have been through as a country, from lockdowns to loadshedding, these elections were our last ticket to getting out of the mess we are in as a country.
Frankly, going into these elections, I was really looking forward to seeing the dissatisfaction translate to long queues very early in the morning. As a young person who is concerned about accountability and better service delivery, I genuinely expected many of my peers to vote. However, this was not the case. At least not this time.
I had the great honour of observing elections at my voting station. Firstly, it was exciting to see young people occupying different spaces. There were more young people working as IEC officials and as party agents. As someone who passionate about inclusivity and development, it was encouraging to see the youth participating. However, the voting queues spoke a different narrative. There were more elderly people in the voting queues than young people.
Things did seem to take a turn as the sun set. As fate would have it, most young people came at the eleventh hour. When I engaged with some of them, they said that the day had been too hot for them to stand in the long queues. Another factor was the choice of day of voting. There were many other reasons but these two were the most prevalent. It was so sad that some young people did not even know their status of registration. Some were turned back as they did not appear on the voters’ roll. It was sad to witness some youth being turned back as a result of not appearing on the system. More and more young people were even asking “when are we going to vote online?” A question that has been circulating on social media timeline.
What was clear from these elections was that political parties need to invest time and money in voter education. The reality is that, just because people did not vote, it does not mean that they are apathetic. It could be that they do not have enough knowledge about what the role of a ward councillor is or how voting in these elections. Even worse, some people did not even know how many ballot papers they were meant to get at the polls. That kind of knowledge would have played a critical role in encouraging people to vote.
In all fairness, it is so sad that the voter turnout has declined significantly. It almost feels like a toxic cycle of complaining, being given a chance to do something and then not doing anything about it. Eventually, one finds themselves at the same place they were when in the beginning or in an even worse state. Therefore moving forward, political parties genuinely need to put people first through educating them more than campaigning to them. Voters are not dumb. The more equipped they are, the better the decisions they can make as citizens, more than just voters.
As a country, we can fault the IEC all we want. That does not change the fact that the people occupying positions of power need to be held accountable, whether voted in by us or not. We all had one simple task in these elections: to vote. To voice our pain, dissatisfaction and lived realities through the ballot peers. As voters, we need to take a deep and close look in the mirror to see who is really to blame for the deteriorating state of our communities.