“The 2024 elections are our 1994.” These are the words of Tebogo Moalusi, a young black South African professional, law and economics graduate, entrepreneur and active citizen. His sentiments are shared by a growing number of people in South Africa who, almost two years from the next national and provincial elections, already feel a urge for change.
An impulse that change is necessary, change is urgent. An impulse that what is at stake in the 2024 elections is the future of the country, more than the leadership positions in the government.
An impulse that resembles the anticipation felt by millions of South Africans when the announcement of the first democratic elections was made on April 27, 1994. An election of hope for the future.
South Africans have been through the motions of elections in five-year voting cycles since 1994. Our political rituals have become ingrained. The parties go to internal conferences, confident that they are choosing the country’s next president, even though it is only the parliament whose vote will ultimately count.
Marketing firms and public relations agencies are on high alert waiting for reports to come up with the color schemes and slogans that will best please voters’ palates. Voluminous manifestos are assembled in closed, often smoky halls, never to be read by a single voter, as politicians prepare to become merchants of political slogans, selling their charisma, charm, songs and promises to the electorate.
Door-to-door sellers of the democratic promise, political parties and their leaders have adopted various ways to encourage and attract people to democratic participation on voting day, which is of the utmost importance.
However, this is what happens between the five-year cycles: between the votes is where it has been most needed to encourage democracy. South Africa does not need less democracy, it needs more democracy. Democracy cannot be reduced to what voters do at the polls every five years. It has to be something that seeps into and through our daily experiences.
If democracy is to truly be acts and systems of self-government, we must all rise up to exercise our power to act every day. The people of South Africa, in all our corners, must take up the task of governing our homes, our neighbourhoods, our communities and our places of business and work, whether we are in government or not.
We have a responsibility to hold each other accountable and, even more importantly, to hold accountable those who, through our votes, access state power as their share in governance.
While co-governance by and with the people of South Africa must be ongoing, the event of an election serves two important functions. First, elections focus our minds on what we want as a society.
It is a moment of reflection focused on the state of the nation and the opportunity for change.
Second, it is an opportunity to think deeply about who we trust with power and resources in the state: our government, which is our collective asset in which we invest our identities, resources, and our hopes.
In the next 18 months, voting South Africans have a small window of opportunity to shape the future on these fronts. As we sit in darkness and literal despair, it’s time to think individually and collectively about what we want to do with the moment 2024.
There are lessons we can learn from those who voted in 1994.
The first lesson is not only to vote against the past but to vote for the future. The voters of 1994 rightly wanted to guarantee the end of apartheid. For many, the vote was about freedom from a repressive regime and an oppressive past, with no clear ideas of what they wanted their freedom to allow them to do.
For many who went to the polls, that promise of freedom had very little content in terms of what freedom would bring.
What would freedom look like in terms of economic participation? How would freedom feel when it comes to choosing to educate your children? What would freedom feel and look like when it came to the idea of having access to a basic and decent quality of life?
Today, many people talk about 2024 as an opportunity to rid the country of one political party or another, but the future requires more of us.
The Rev. Frank Chikane said in a conference address in July that his hope for South Africa in the run-up to 2024 is to see people rise up and make their voices heard in a “People’s Manifesto.”
Long before politicians and businessmen craft their manifestos and slogans, we the people must set the agenda.
We need to determine the priority issues and set the bar higher on who we are willing to elect and clarify the terms and conditions that must be met by anyone who wants to be hired to serve the South African electorate, whether as president or member of a provincial legislature.
The 2024 election should be about changing the rules of the game, not just the players.
Another lesson is not to let the urgency of the moment transfer too much of our power and agency to those who want to be voted on.
So determined and anxious was the voting public in 1994 that many blindly handed over their power to govern to political parties and politicians, wholesale.
The power of a few to govern came with not only the responsibility to execute the plan but to create the road map to the future on behalf of the majority, not to cultivate a culture of superficial public participation and messianic politics in which the elected they will save rather than serve us.
This has become one of the flops of the moment in 1994 and since then its consensus has almost collapsed. Some community leaders who, even without political affiliation, fought for liberation in NGOs, religious organizations, trade unions, schools and universities, were asked to join the ranks of public service and parliament, leaving behind the lives and professions they knew in the service of the country.
But many of those who did not join the state, some would rightly argue, left the job of governing to their comrades in political and public office. Assuming the hard work was done, they waited for the promise of freedom, only to be disappointed by acts of incompetence at the very least and betrayal at worst.
Nearly 30 years later, as we stand on the brink of another election, we discover that our political system has not only become a space for the few, it has also become a space that does not necessarily represent the best among us.
We have placed our collective destiny, our resources and our identity as a country with people who, in many cases, seek political office to raise their own profiles, instead of raising the flag of South Africa and our quality of life.
Given the poor state of politics and government, it has become easy to say that, like most South Africans, we want nothing to do with politics and government. It is easy to decide not to vote to avoid any relationship with the government and the political class of the moment. However, the problem is that we are leaving them alone to decide the future of our country.
If South Africa were a car speeding off a cliff, many citizens, activists, workers and voters would at best be described as people outside the car yelling at the driver to stop, while we bang on the outside of the car. vehicle. When the car is seconds away from sinking into disaster, many might even give up and decide to let it and its wayward driver end up in an accident.
The only problem is that if the car is South Africa, we are all collective owners of the car. The car does not belong to the driver, it is ours, and we have to do more than make noise from the outside.
Some of us will need to get in the car, in an effort to stop the driver, while others will need to work up the courage to sit in the driver’s seat and drive the car away from danger into a better future.
South Africa needs more than resilience in 2024, we need people who will rise to the challenge to stop the current path to disaster and lead us to the future we all deserve. We have become comfortable resisting through protest, activism, lobbying, and analysis, but the time for progressive action has come.
As we move into 2024, an opportunity presents itself to change the course of history. We have an opportunity to rewrite the rules of what a political election cycle looks like. We have the opportunity to dream together and collaborate on a new version, not only of what our politics is like, but also what our future could be as South Africa.
People of all backgrounds have the opportunity to write and set the agenda for the 2024 elections. In the words of the young activist Irfaan Mnagera, we can write a new chapter and title it “A New Hope Rising”. This is hope derived from collective power, youth energy, and political action that breaks all known molds of mainstream politics and leads us toward radical solidarity, devolution, and solutions born in communities.
For the South African future we deserve, three things must emerge by 2024 and beyond.
First of all, our expectations must be raised. We should all expect more from those seeking public office and from others as we co-govern the country in the future.
Second, voter turnout must increase. The government mandate cannot be determined by a minority. We have 18 months as voters to research voting options, create the options we want to vote for, or even be those options, but increasing voter turnout is a goal we can all contribute to.
Ultimately, true public representatives must emerge.
We all know people in communities, businesses and civil society whom we would trust to represent us. We must convince them to raise their hands, we must support them and hold them accountable.
Or you can determine for yourself that you are not only willing to vote but also to be voted for. The qualification for political office is not political pedigree but the will to represent and serve.
South Africa will only rise because we rise. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Tessa Dooms is a sociologist, development practitioner, activist, and director of Rivonia Circle, a center for policy and political alternatives.