Twenty five years after South Africans first went to the polls to elect a democratic Government in 1994, I’m sitting in Berlin watching from afar with very mixed feelings.
Off course I spent the eve of the election in long calls with old hacks from way back then, running through various scenarios for the election outcomes. No matter where in the world we are — we remain South Africans.
I go to bed feeling gloomy after reading former Huffington Post editor and experienced political journalist Ferial Haffajee’s tweet: “Comment: this is a working list of the biggest instances of corruption and state capture under the ANC. There has not been accountability in one of them. Not one.”
Off course I woke up early to follow reports on social media.
This sixth election has been met with a veil of gloom and doom by many journalists and analysts. We ask ourselves can the ship be turned around? On the ground in South Africa our every day vocabulary has become: Gangster state, state capture, state looting, corruption, tenderpreneurs. The flip-side of the coin has been that ordinary South Africans have become experts on credit ratings and the threat of credit downgrades.
Another experienced political journalist and former editor of the Financial Mail, Barney Mtombothi tweets: “Are you voting for or against #etolls in these elections? For or against looting? For or against state capture? The power is in your hands #SAELections2019”
My fellow 2010 African Prize for Writing nominee, author Shubnum Khan voted in Durban and afterwards tweets, “I’ve always voted at the polling station at my old primary school. It’s a strange feeling being in a place with so much nostalgia and memory of the past voting for a future so uncertain.”
Walking my beagle through the parks of Berlin I this morning listened to Eusebius McKaiser’s radio talk show on 702 and was heartened by listeners who had voted early, phoning in with their experiences. Heartened especially by young first-time voters.
In 1994 I was also a first time voter, despite being white. In the apartheid years I never voted. The 27 April 1994, when our first free and fair elections were held was for me when the rally cry of our generation: Freedom in Our Lifetime became a reality. I still get goosebumps when I think of that day and the camaraderie among the people in those long queues.
Working in the Reuters offices during those heady days, I myself only heard the stories and did not get a chance to go and vote. Stories of camera people filming and when the voters heard they were South Africans, allowed them to jump the long queues to vote. Stories of old and fragile people being directed to the front. We were all proud at what we had achieved: Freedom in our lIfetime and we avoided a civil war.
I eventually voted on the third day of that first elections. The Auckland Park polling booth was quiet and I was overtired from the long days and nights. Voting that day, I paused for a moment to think of those friends who had lost their lives along the way and did not see freedom being born.
And now we are at our sixth election — some analysts say as important as it was in 1994. We have become a country where we now know our Constitution and constitutional rights. Had the country not gone through the bleak Zuma years, this may just have been taken for granted.
The tweets this morning are getting more upbeat after the polling booths opened — it is after all Election Day in South Africa and we all love a party.
Journalist Marianne Thamm wrote: “I actually am getting excited….I had been so down about voting…but I am pleased that I did. I had considered spoiling my ballot.”
I watch and listen to president Cyril Ramaphosa after he had voted in Soweto where he grew up. I first met a young Cyril Ramaphosa when he was a mine worker’s trade union leader in the 1980’s, now he represents our only hope to stamp out corruption.
“I’m totally humbled by the excitement we see here. One can feel there is a good vibe and it is a vibe for democracy. It is a vote for our democratic system that we have been building over the past 25 years,” he says.
Continuing “So 25 years later we still have a nation that is brimming with confidence and excitement about casting their vote.”
I want to believe him when he turns dead serious and address the issues of unemployment, poverty and inequality still facing our nation. And corruption. He promises that the criminal justice system will take its course after the elections.
“Never, never, never again must South Africa go through what we have gone through. Where there is sleeze, where there is maleficence, where there is rampant corruption. Because our people hate corruption. They do not appreciate corruption. And they know that corruption acts against their own interests. It takes money out of their mouth, it takes money from service delivery,” he told journalists after casting his vote.
“We’ve learnt our lesson and we are now going to steam ahead to address the needs of our people,” Ramaphosa ends. He does not make any reference to the general-secretary of the ANC Ace Magashule, accused of widespread corruption.
As a South African I desperately want to believe in him. If not him, who can turn the ship?
And then as a political journalist I look at the track record of the ANC these past 25 years. I know I should not be swayed by election day euphoria. I mourn the wasted years.
Ramaphosa was the successor Mandela wanted: the ANC back then just returned from exile overruled him. I just hope that Ramaphosa does not follow in Mandela’s footsteps of being unable to gain control of the ANC beast. Because let’s face it 25 years after the dawn of democracy the former liberation movement has become the face of corruption in South Africa.
Update — Interview on Deutsche Welle
My interview on the way forward for South Africa after the polling booths closed with The Day on Deutsche Welle on 8 May 2019