Saturday, May 21, 2011

Election Day

Last Wednesday was municipal election day across South Africa. It was a holiday, so school was closed and transformed into a voting location. I was a bit surprised, as the community hall was previously used for local elections. It seemed plenty big, although set back from the main road. Anyhow, these elections were a bit of a disappointment in how calm and normal they were.

I walked past the school twice during the day and while there were more cars parked in the road than I'd ever previously seen in Loopeng, everything was quiet. The quiet might be explained by how few people in Loopeng actually voted.

I had expected a certain degree of hoopla around the fourth municipal elections since the end of apartheid, but no one seemed particularly enthused and the winner for Loopeng's ward was all but already elected months before the actual polling took place. Still I was stunned to learn how few people I knew were voting. Most of them couldn't vote in Loopeng because they were registered elsewhere. For the most part, they were students and teachers whose residences are anywhere from 10 to 1000 kilometres away. Sure, absentee ballots can be obtained, but who really does that? (Confession: I don't. That's right. I haven't voted since coming to South Africa.) In any case, while I can understand the lack of voting on the part of educators with homes in other provinces, I was shocked by learners whose technical homes are villages just down the road. The learners don't live at home because Loopeng has the nearest high school and they board in the village. They had neither the time nor money to travel home just to vote.

If I were a local politician, I would have hired a taxi or two just to take them to their official polling station, or made some other arrangement. These students were denied the opportunity to exercise their rights as citizens of a democratic republic because of their poverty. As these students represent actual votes, I'm surprised that there was no effort made to get them to the polls. Oh well, I think all the non-voters enjoyed the day off!

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