02 Aug This is Why I’m Not Voting on Election Day
I know how privileged it seems to refuse to vote while so many individuals around the globe still lack the right to do so or live in democratic societies where voting is not possible. I’ll be honest: I affirmed my decision not to vote (EDIT: or to spoil my vote) at some point while writing this article. Not voting is something that had never crossed my mind in the past. In fact, if someone had told me that they were boycotting the elections a year ago, I would have given a lecture about ungratefulness and reminded them of how “every vote counts” – because yes, every vote does count and we need to examine the extremities of our votes and what democracy aims to achieve before we cast them.
So, how did my decision to not vote come to be exactly? Firstly, I considered the limitations of democracy once again, and how this system is based on the majority rule therefore excluding the minorities. This does not satisfy me. How can we place our trust in a system that is not concerned with the well-being and interests of those who are not seen as “the norm?”. Aren’t these “norms” the toxic and infectious foundations on which erasure, stereotypes, inequality and oppression are built in the first place? My answer is yes.
When we assume that everyone’s voice is equal simply because everyone has the right to cast a vote, we are not acknowledging the enormous echo that resounds from only select voices in our society or the enormous amounts of privilege that only certain members of society are afforded. I have had the privilege of growing up in a spacious, safe suburban area and attending a school where I received a “good” education in my home language. I have the privilege of having internet access readily available for me to communicate with the world whenever I choose and research topics I care about. I have the privilege of never having to worry about where my next meal comes from. The list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, the majority of South Africans do not have these privileges. People of colour in South Africa are still voiceless and grappling to have their basic human needs met years after apartheid has ended. Worse still, the political party that was selected to represent the masses has not delivered on its promises which in turn has peaked levels of disappointment, disillusionment and frustration with democracy in general. But I’m not going to sit back and blame the ANC for South Africa’s apparent “trajectory” – that seems to be the latest buzzword among the local fear mongers. The ANC is not South Africa’s biggest problem and, despite the efforts of the pseudo-activist movement #ZumaMustFall, neither is Jacob Zuma.
I used to believe that South Africa’s biggest setback was the fact that the majority of our nation has been so ill-informed that they will likely make a voting decision that won’t empower them. But after careful contemplation, I realised that my attitude contributed to the victim blaming which is all too common in an unjust society. It’s the same kind of approach which reasons that “if you do not vote, you have no right to complain about the way things are.” What happens when you do vote and are unhappy with the outcomes? Are you still refused the right to complain?
No matter whom the majority of South Africa votes for – let’s bear in mind that the majority is made up primarily of people of colour who are still largely oppressed – chances are they will suffer regardless. This institution, regardless of who governs it, was not built to serve them. I believe the problem with democracy is it fools you into thinking that your voice makes a difference but it’s glaringly obvious that the powers that be do not care for the individual. So no matter which party comes into power, it will likely re-institutionalise all the problematic systems that we should be trying to dismantle.
Like Mark Twain once said, “if voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” If I was to vote on election day, I would not be voting for the party I wanted to win but rather the party I wanted to lose. That does not feel very democratic. I have realised that many South Africans face a similar conundrum yet we are never presented with an alternative – that is not voting (or spoiling your vote).
As Jason Brennan wrote for Art of Theory on The Ethics of Voting: “How we vote matters. When we vote, we can make government better or worse, and in turn, make people’s lives better or worse. Bad choices at the polls can destroy economic opportunities, produce crises that lower everyone’s standards of living, lead to unjust and unnecessary wars (and thus to millions of deaths), lead to sexist, racist, and homophobic legislation, help reinforce poverty, produce overly punitive criminal legislation, and worse . . . Voting is not like choosing what to eat off a restaurant’s menu. If a person makes bad choices at a restaurant, at least only she bears the consequences of her actions. Yet when voters make bad choices at the polls, everyone suffers. Irresponsible voting can harm innocent people.”
Personally, I cannot justify voting for a party just for the sake of it. You can play devil’s advocate and ask, “what if nobody voted? What purpose would that serve?” My answer is that the outcome remains unpredictable but if we had to make an educated guess, it might achieve getting the ruling party out of power; it might result in anarchy and be the start of an uprising which could lead to real, tangible revolution; it might lead the public to understand what enormous influence that masses have or by contrast, that our votes render completely meaningless when it comes down to it.
By not voting in this democracy (EDIT: or spoiling my vote as a means of achieving the same objective), perhaps I am voting but for something different. I am voting for the minorities. I am voting for the people whom the system has failed dismally. Jason Brennan argues that “citizens have no standing moral obligation to vote. Voting is just one of many ways one can pay a debt to society, serve other citizens, promote the common good, exercise civic virtue, and avoid free-riding off the efforts of others.”
I do see some truth in that. We are pressured to vote even though many of us do not really agree with the beliefs of the party we are voting for. Could it be because society is morbidly afraid of anarchy, or because we cannot fathom what self-governance might entail? Wiki describes anarchy as “the condition of a society, entity, group of people, or a single person that rejects illegitimate hierarchies.” If you ask me that’s exactly what we need. But whenever anarchy is mentioned, most people have a knee-jerk reaction of scorning everything to do with it. Probably because everything we’ve ever been taught about anarchy, by institutions like the government and the education system, has painted it in a bad light.
In African Anarchism: The History of A Movement, Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey write: “The ideals underlying anarchism may not be so new in the African context. What is new is the concept of anarchism as a social movement or ideology. Anarchy as an abstraction may indeed be remote to Africans, but it is not at all unknown as a way of life. This is not fully appreciated because there is not as yet a systematic body of anarchist thought that is peculiarly African in origin.”
Prior to African colonisation, there were no visible class divisions in South Africa, or capitalist economy, and anarchism was – simply put – just a way of life. Then colonialism dug its roots into the free continent of Africa and proceeded to grow until it had enslaved our country and her people in an inescapable web of whiteness. Today, it continues to do so by apologetically “allowing” individuals who once lived free of our oppressive systems to choose a lesser evil to assert control over them, but an evil nonetheless.
Mbah and Igariwey write that “to understand the dynamics of class formation in post-colonial Africa, we need first to examine the character of the preceding colonial state. Colonialism left independent African states with a neo-colonial economy, with the capitalist mode of production replacing the pre-capitalist modes; this entailed the subjugation of local labor and resources to the needs of capitalism . . . The classes that developed after this integration do not reflect an autonomous economy, but a dependent economy.”
In reality, it’s not hard to see who has benefited from neo-colonialism in Africa – and continues to do so – and who suffers from it. If our democracy is merely an extension of the white man’s dream of freedom (and I believe that it is) then I want nothing to do with it. Democracy may seem like a system that is “free for all” but if that was the case then this system would have proved to be successful by now. We need only look at American politics to understand how poorly this social system fails marginalised groups (people of colour, women, gender variant, LGBTQI+ people and so forth). Or, how easily convinced human beings can be and how easily that can be used against us.
Here in South Africa, foreign capital still holds the key to local economies through the control of technology, finance and general decision making. If we don’t seek to dismantle the kyriarchy (or rather, our current social system that exists to keep oppressive systems in place) which controls not only our country but the world, this will never change. Even if there was a political party who was actively trying to achieve this goal, it would not gain traction because so many people do not even know that they are being systematically oppressed.
In my opinion, anarchy is something we should be exploring further rather than merely gritting our teeth through election processes that seek to “fix” our problems using broken tools. That is why I’m not voting (or spoiling my vote) in the upcoming election. Who knows, maybe in a year’s time my opinion will have changed once more. As for right now, I still believe that if the revolution isn’t intersectional then it’s not much of a revolution at all.