AFRICANGLOBE – I stand in a queue, snaking along the sidewalk, rubbing shoulders with my fellow South Africans, anticipation tangibly cutting through the air. We’ve gathered to make our mark, to exercise our democratic right. We endure the unrelenting sun beating down on us for we know the literal bloodshed that has gone into making this day possible, for this queue to be peppered with different hues of skin color, everyone’s individual vote carrying equal weight. I reach the booth and am finally alone with my thoughts. I look down at the ballot paper, Jacob Zuma’s toothy grin meeting my steady gaze. My eyes wonder down the list, some familiar faces looking back at me, some wholly unfamiliar. I can’t quite shake the feeling that none of these beaming faces and the parties they represent deserve my vote. Reluctant to cast a vote simply for the opposition, I choose to spoil my ballot. I draw a massive X across the whole page. I walk out of the booth, back into the sunlight knowing I’ve made my mark, I’ve voted. Spoiling a ballot is not inaction; it’s action of the most decisive and telling nature – a clear word of warning to the powers that be that they don’t deserve my affirmative vote. (In my mind, this is what my election experience later this year will look like.)
We’re in the thick of election induced silly season now. Our illustrious Jacob Zuma seems to be under the illusion – or better yet, delusion – that the African National Congress (ANC) will rule South Africa “forever and ever”. A bold claim – one he has altered slightly over the years, yet the sentiment remains. In 2008 he claimed the ANC would “rule until Jesus comes back”. I presume over the interim six years he’s thought about the ramifications of that claim and realized that if indeed Jesus does come back, by his own declaration the ANC’s days will be numbered. Now, he just chooses to sidestep his prior claim and assert that the ANC will never fall from their perch of unfettered power and influence.
But we all know that if the ANC continues down it’s current domino-toppling path lurching from one scandal to the next, coupled with an inability to deliver basic services, they will slowly lose support amongst potential voters. In fact, a recent Ipsos survey has revealed that the party has lost as much as 19% of its support base since 2008. The last few years have been tumultuous to say the least, with the Marikana massacre and the recent Nkandlagate scandal – Zuma’s ‘security’ upgrades to his homestead costing tax-payers a lavish 206 million rand – tarnishing the ANC’s reputation. In the midst of this, Tata Nelson Mandela’s death in December 2013 has undoubtedly caused the nation to pause and reflect on its current standing. Many are asking: “What has the ANC achieved over the past twenty years?”
The No Land! No House! No Vote! campaign cottoned on to this question as early as 2004, when it was initiated by the Landless Peoples Movement (LPM). The campaign called for a boycotting of the 2009 general election, citing the ANC’s lack of adequate service delivery as a reason for abstaining from the vote. The logic is simple: voting is like a social contract, an agreement between party and people. The problem though is that, as the ANC have proven year after year, promises of change and service delivery seem to be merely election ‘bait’ – like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. The No Land! No House! No Vote!campaign pointed to this flaw in the contract, encouraging people to withhold their votes so as to ruffle the ruling parties feathers.
Jacob Zuma has very vocally rebuked this mentality saying, “If you do not vote, you are depriving yourself of a freedom we have fought for and given you. You are deciding to oppress yourself…you are failing yourself and the nation”. I never thought I’d say Zuma makes sense, but I must admit, he’s correct on this point. Voting is a democratic right. I’d go as far as to say that voting is a duty (in Australia, for example, voting is compulsory). Boycotting a vote is also boycotting active citizenship and, in a sense, fatally mistaking inaction for action.
Now, spoiling your ballot, that’s active citizenship. You’re still exercising your democratic right to make your mark but you’re sending a message loud and clear to the powers that be that nobody is actually worthy of your vote. As much as it pains me to admit, I’m not truly convinced that any political party in South Africa right now is worthy of my vote. The ANC, under the misguided leadership of Zuma, is steadily sinking into the miry depths of corruption and sliding down that slippery slope towards dictatorship, and, quite frankly, the ‘opposition’ groups are just that exactly, opposition. They function so as to occupy the space of a vote ‘against’ the ANC but I feel, in all honesty, that a vote ‘for’ an opposition party is more of a vote ‘against’ the ANC. We are spoilt for choice in the upcoming elections – with new parties springing up faster than popcorn kernels popping on a stovetop – but opposition parties cannot exist solely to be ‘the opposition’. Rather, they need to add something to the table in the form of a clear manifesto and sound policies.
The problem with taking a decisive step to spoil your ballot in a South African election is that the spoilt ballots will most likely be interpreted as a sign of a grave lack of voter education. The political act of spoiling a ballot – and the resounding ‘vote of no confidence’ it should send out to election observers and the powers that be – may be reduced to conflating the issue with problems of illiteracy among voters. In the recent 2013 Kenyan national elections, a neck and neck race between Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, hundreds of thousands of spoiled ballots emerged during the course of the vote counting process. Predictably, the spoilt ballots were explained away under the convenient banner of an unsuccessful voter education drive in the years leading up to the elections. Did anyone stop to think that perhaps a percentage of those spoilt ballots were deliberately spoilt by renegade Kenyan nationals in a bid to make a statement about a lack of an adequate presidential candidate?
Conversely, I wouldn’t be surprised if further afield than our beloved African continent a spoilt ballot carries the weight it deserves. For instance, in the United Kingdom in 2010, the Space Hijackers General election battle buses were emblazoned with ‘spoil your ballot’ campaign posters featuring the line, “Voting only encourages them, reject the lot of ‘em! Spoil your ballot”. Photographs of the buses travelling around the city showed defiant passengers proudly holding up posters of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with the not so complementary word ‘Wanker’ written in bold red font across the poster.
No doubt the ANC will be doing everything in their power to capitalize on Mandela’s legacy as a campaign tool for the upcoming elections. But, while Madiba held steadfastly to the ideals and principles of democracy, Zuma seems to have little regard for anything remotely democratic these days. Just this past week, while launching the election campaign and revealing the party manifesto – including a lofty plan to create 6 million jobs by 2019 – he said “we will continue to run this government forever and ever whether they like it or not.”
It appears Zuma has overlooked the very crux of democracy: choice. His blatant disregard and disrespect for democratic principles is, to say the least, alarming. To add insult to injury, he has also recently admitted to something that has likely struck terror into the hearts of many: he has very publically asserted that the ANC want to win over a two thirds majority of the vote in the upcoming general election so that they can make changes to the constitution. Celebrating at the ANC’s recent 102nd birthday bash he said, “We want a huge majority this time because we want to change certain things that couldn’t be changed with a small majority so that we move forward because there are certain hurdles.”
While some argue quite vociferously that a spoilt ballot equates to a vote for the ANC – purely by virtue of it not being a vote propping up the opposition – I think it’s important to note that, in my mind at least, a spoilt ballot is a legitimate vote. I like to think of it as ticking the imaginary ‘none of the above’ box. Boycotting a vote is sanctioning inaction while, conversely, actively standing in a queue and making your mark – albeit for no political party – is a decisive act, keeping in line with democratic principles South Africa fought so hard as a nation to enshrine. Your vote does count, so make it count this year by spoiling your ballot.
By: Kyla Herrmannsen