Next month, South Africans above the age of 18 will be heading for the polls. Confronting them will be a crucial decision about the country’s future, specifically the next five years.

The question confronting all of us, then, will be: whom can we trust to offer South Africa the kind of ethical, visionary and inspirational leadership that will take the country out of the morass in which it currently finds itself and bring out the very best in us as a people?

There is definitely no shortage of candidates. With each election since the dawn of our democracy in 1994, more new political parties spring up as vehicles to enable their founders to occupy cushy seats in the country’s national and/or provincial legislatures. My guess is that, even as they are conceived of by their respective founders, very rarely – if ever – are they regarded as instruments to help steer the country in the right direction. Very rarely are they formed out of a need to steer our country back onto the right path from which it has been derailed over the years.

Often, however, they are merely extensions of their founders’ egos and vehicles to enable them to enter – or stay in – politics to be able to feed from the public trough. Political parties have mushroomed as individuals have fallen out with their original parties or their comrades within those parties, and those men and women have then found themselves in need of new political vehicles to enable them to remain on the public payroll.

Thus were various political parties formed: Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Front and Mosioua Lekota’s Congress of the People from the ANC; Themba Godi’s African People’s Convention from the Pan Africanist Congress; Zanele Magwaza-Msibi’s National Freedom Party from the Inkatha Freedom Party; Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Front from the ANC; and, more recently, Patricia De Lille’s Good from the Democratic Alliance.

There have been some exceptions, with the main one having been the attempt in 2013 by Mamphela Ramphele to form the now-laughable Agang, out of a desire to re-direct the country back to the path chosen for it by our founding fathers and mothers during the multi-party talks at the Congress for a Democratic South Africa and the subsequent Constituent Assembly that finalized our world-acclaimed Constitution.

As a people, then, we are not without a choice on 8 May 2019. While none of the parties or their leaders is perfect, nevertheless it remains crucially important that South Africans go out in their numbers to vote during our sixth all-inclusive elections. For me, who or what they vote for is immaterial, as long as they exercise their fundamental right to vote.

Regrettably, there are those who, out of disillusionment with politics and politicians, have decided that participating in the elections is a waste of their precious time because it makes no real difference. All politicians, they argue, are the same: they make lots and lots of great promises but, once elected, proceed deliberately to ignore those promises to the electorate and to do what they would like to do anyway – and that, most of the time, is to mess up, plunder and steal and advance their own selfish interests instead of those of the nation.

While that disillusionment is understandable, nevertheless the decision to opt out of politics and, in the process, forego one’s right to vote is grossly irresponsible. It is laziness of the worst kind on the part of those compatriots who may be so inclined. They forget that, even if they did not exercise their right to vote, once elected, our bent politicians go out to do what they do – whether that be lying and stealing – in the collective name of “the people”. Included in “the people” are those who, myopically, may have taken a decision not to vote at all as a sign of protest against our rotten politics and its practitioners.

Our disillusioned compatriots ignore – at their peril – the simple but truthful fact that, in a democracy such as ours, it is during a time like now, when elections are around the corner, when even the simplest or poorest of voters is at his or her most powerful. It is now, in the run-up to an election, when even the most arrogant and obnoxious politician has to humble him/herself and come crawling to beg for our votes. It is now that the pendulum swings decidedly against the rich, proud, smug or vulgar politician in favour of the poor voter who, in reality, is the real repository of power.

While they may strut around proudly and make all sorts of claims about enjoying mixing with the people, the truth is that politicians do not enjoy the period that we have now entered, when they have to humble themselves and travel to every nook and cranny of the country to shake hands with our poorest compatriots, to smile and sing as they promise heaven on earth. They do not enjoy having to take trains, buses, go to taxi ranks and be exposed to some of the dirtiest streets in our townships and informal settlements to beg for votes in return for their parties’ T-shirts and sundry paraphernalia and empty promises. Nothing reminds them so strongly of the fact that the power they exercise after an election has its origin from ordinary South Africans.

Therefore, there is no time when the ordinary man and woman in the country is as powerful as now. During this period, suddenly politicians remember even those squalid parts of the country that they only ever hear about in the media once they are comfortably ensconced in office after an election.

While the decision whether or not to vote is for each person to make, I would urge every compatriot strongly to go out on 8 May to vote their conscience. I urge every South African to go out to send a strong message to our political mandarins that we, the ordinary men and women that we are, want our country back from those who have dared to steal from it, to abuse it in different ways or even to pawn it to the highest bidder/s. I ask that all South Africans go out to vote for the party or parties of their choice and, in the process, remind politicians that none of them has a God-given right to govern this country.

Regrettably, our choices continue to be confined to political parties as opposed to individuals, thanks to what was supposed to be a limited-duration deal that was struck

during the pre-1994 negotiations at the World Trade Centre. As a result, many of us will find ourselves having to block our noses to prevent the stench emanating from objectionable names of crooked, unethical or downright corrupt individuals on the lists of some of the parties for which we may find ourselves voting on 8 May. It is precisely because it has served the parties well that we continue to have this obnoxious system in place, when we should long have had a system by now that combines both constituency representation and proportional representation.

One is encouraged by the fact that there is, on the court roll somewhere in the country, a case seeking to assert our rights as citizens to vote for men and women of our choice, who will stand as individual candidates and represent specific constituencies, as opposed to voting – as we now do – for political parties, with absolutely no say in who they include on their precious lists. It is crucially important that civil society – through organisations like the Helen Suzman Foundation, Freedom Under Law, the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution, etc. – take this fight up in our country’s courts after the forthcoming elections to re-assert our rights to vote for men and women of our choice, rather than parties which, once elected, have little or absolutely no obeisance to the electorate.

Were we sufficiently respected, as citizens, to vote directly for the President of the country, as opposed to leaving this important responsibility to political parties to choose one of their own in Parliament to become our Head of State, the choice confronting us on 8 May would be much easier. Many among us would find it easy to vote for Cyril Ramaphosa as President, without simultaneously feeling guilty that our vote for him, through his party, will also be a vote for men and women of questionable integrity on his party’s lists.

That shortcoming notwithstanding, it remains very important for all adult compatriots to go out to vote with their minds – and not their hearts – on 8 May. We should do so with a view to producing whatever we may consider the best possible outcome for the country and its nine provinces. For me, such an outcome will be one in which no party ever feels entitled to govern, or feels that it can take the electorate for granted because, regardless of its performance while in office, it can always be assured of victory at the next polls.

In addition to their own responsibility to go out to vote on election day, business leaders must also encourage their employees to do so, and ensure that they have ample time to do so.

Let us go out and re-shape South Africa’s fate on 8 May and take responsibility for our actions and decisions, and refrain from for ever bleating afterwards – as is typical of South Africans – as though collectively we are powerless as a people. The power resides firmly in our hands. Let us use it on 8 May and make ourselves unmistakably heard. Only then will politicians ever take us seriously.

Kaizer M. Nyatsumba

Chief Executive Officer