Have you asked them?

Why are more than 1 million born frees not registered to vote in the up coming elections?

We are quick to say that we are all responsible for building our nation and being responsible citizens. One way of being responsible citizens in the plight for nation building is by voting, we tell them. I often wonder if by not voting they become irresponsible citizens who cares nothing for their country, its past, present or future. I think it’s a bit presumptuous and arrogant to make such statements without considering the reasons behind the actions. I think it also fails to understand or take into consideration the idealism of our young people and their developmental processes.

As an adult born before 1994, I am conflicted for whom to vote. I am someone who understands the liberation from our historic pain, someone who has known what it means to live in a township riddled by gang violence, substance abuse and a general sense of lostness due to group removals. I am a person who has experienced crime and violence on countless occasions, unemployment and an apathy due to the effects of the past. And while I am not one who normally plays the historic injustice card, it is easy to play the victim and blame the past for these things and yet the converse is true as well. If I did not experience these things I would not understand the historic past and say that it is all excuses for not taking responsibility for my own life. The reality of today exists because of our past. I am conflicted about who to vote for.

Therefore, I find it distasteful that we so quick to pressure our young people to vote for the liberators because that’s the right thing to do, otherwise we would still be stuck in the past. Or if we vote for any other party we would be guilty of bringing back the oppressors to power. I find it distasteful when we pressure our young to vote for the opposition parties because if we do not then we are guilty of condoning corruption and reversing apartheid. Vote against corruption. Vote for the party that delivered us from evil. Vote for service delivery. Vote for justice. Vote for jobs. Vote for … Vote for … And if you don’t vote you do not have a say! The emotional blackmail and guilt of not voting forced upon our vulnerable and impressionable is not a very responsible stance by our adult community.

We may assume our young people may not be all that interested in the past. Or we may assume, instead, that they are more concerned about their future. But by interviewing five young people to find out why they won’t be voting is too simplistic and irresponsible and bad empirical research. We are attempting, even forcing, our opinions as the adult community upon our young people and are not willing to sit down and find out what matters most to them. While the recent spate of news coverage as to why the born-frees are not interested in voting might be a bit too late for this election, it may not be too late for the future of the country.

A Privilege

Obviously there is much talk about Nkandla and elections and most folks are either silent over it or quite boisterous in their opinions. Yet, either way a person chooses to respond, it remains a response, a democratic response actually. I’m sure most people are saying we need to stand up and speak out about issues and not to be silent because it is the coward way out. But being silent, too, is a response. Whilst it may not always be the best response (civically or ethically), for some people it is a legitimate action.

That brings me to the elections. Now, I’m no economic student or even a politically clued up individual so I don’t have much authority or even any authority with what I might be about to say. But I will say it nonetheless.

There are many people who feel that if you do not vote then you do not have a say or a right to say in what is going on in the country and that you gave away that right when you chose not to vote. While, I am also quite adamant about voting and consider it the best thing to do, I’m almost willing to say it’s the right thing to do, but I have to realise that any person has the democratic right to vote or not to vote and by choosing to do either, they should still have a right, a democratic right to voice their opinion on things. It might undermine the integrity of the person who chose not to vote but they continue to have that right.

Which now brings me to a feeling of discomfort…

I feel strongly that the word “right” (of an individual) is an abuse or degradation of what democracy is all about. While democracy is such a broad term to define, it doesn’t give us the “right” to things, instead we should see that democracy gives us the “privilege” to things, even the privilege to vote.

Therefore, I think the better option is to stop saying that I have the “right” to vote or to voice my opinion, instead we should opt for saying that I have the “privilege” to vote and to voice my opinion. And because I was given that privilege, I should employ it wisely with the attitude of offering another person that same privilege.

In the end, life is not about rights, it is about privileges.