When I started this blogging experiment, I thought that I would write a lot about being South African. I haven’t – perhaps because being alive outside of South Africa this last while has become all-consuming. These past few days though… let’s just say my Masters dissertation has suffered. I have not been able to take my eyes off the live results of the polls. Who knew municipal elections could be so exciting? Now feels like a good time to start blogging about South Africa.
First, a confession: I am usually a DA voter (South Africans living abroad cannot vote in municipal elections, but the DA would have been my vote). (Sorry to be a white South African stereotype). Mostly I vote for them because they feel like the lesser of several evils, but that is neither here nor there. I want to clear the air and say that my stupendous excitement for how these elections have turned out is much more than an excitement for the successful performance of a party that (hypothetically) got my vote.
Yes, I am elated with these elections because they show that, despite the shambles that the past years feel like they’ve been, democracy in South Africa is working. It’s fucking working! And South Africans are using it to make change. If that isn’t a reason to dance for a joy and ululate (in a country which understands neither of these things), I don’t know what is. You see, being away from home has made me follow these elections more closely than I would have were I home – and so I spent Wednesday reading about South Africans walking kilometers to voting stations, and waiting amicably in lines, and posting ‘thumbsies’ of their marked fingers. I clicked through pictures of mums voting with small children in tow, and people smiling as they voted in their PJs and winter woolies. There were definitely more hiccups than usual on voting day, but it seemed that mostly South Africans showed up at the polls after a bloody terrible year… and celebrated being there.
And then the results started coming in.
For the first time since 1994, something different has happened in the results this year. And, everyone seems (relatively) chill with it. Ok, Luthuli House apparently cancelled their celebrations – but no one (touch wood lest I speak too soon) has cried foul or made shady moves in the direction of a municipal coup. Something significantly different happened in the polls for the first time since democracy was born in South Africa… and it seems like our democracy can weather that change. Forgive me for being a nerdy politics student, but that is a huge deal. That must be what my parents felt like when they realised that just because I’d moved out and moved continents didn’t mean I was going to forget to feed and wash myself like a reasonable grown human.
I think the change we’ve seen in the results this year is good (and again, not just because I am a DA voter). More diverse governance in our democracy will mean parties have to work harder to stand out, to earn our votes the next time around. It will mean more accountability, and less one-sided debate in local governance. (Perhaps we should send the ANC, DA & EFF a memo from the collective South African populace saying that parties who co-operate best in coalitions will get our votes in 2019? [Insert tongue-in-cheek-voice]) Perhaps this change will mean that the ANC gets the message that it is widely seen to have sickeningly lost its way. I hope that these elections will mean all of these things.
Hope is what watching these elections from afar has given me. That kind of hope that fills your heart until it feels like it cannot fit inside the skeletal confines of your chest anymore, that feels like champagne bubbles in your blood. The kind of hope that makes you want to weep with the gratitude of having it, because in such a harrowing, desolate time to be human, to be South African, we have got this one thing right. We can all go vote, and we can all vote differently (to each other and to the past)… and the gears of our country keep on turning. Thank God.
I am always proud to be South African, but I am especially proud now. From within the midst of a country reeling with the implications of an isolationist, angry vote (Brexit), I watched South Africans cheerfully and tenaciously (for the most part) use an electoral system that works to vote for something different. I know it’s just a municipal election, I know it wasn’t perfect, and I know what happens next is far from certain, but that act, that act seems colossal. It seems as colossal as hope.