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Die Student
Why are politicians only religious before an election?
Ashwin Thyssen
Ashwin Thyssen. Foto: Nardus Engelbrecht

It is one day prior to the sixth presidential election, after the first was held in 1994. Born on 27 April 1996, I have been cast as part of the generation called “born-free”.

This, of course, is despite the fact that racial inequality and gender disparities continue to inform our national discourse. As such, the designated mould “born-free” ought not to be uncritically cast on those born around and after 1994. With a day left before the upcoming election, the present moment begets an array of questions.

In her stellar text Memoirs of a Born Free (2014) Malaika wa Azania berates the failures of the African National Congress (ANC) since its enthronement in 1994. Writing in 2014, anticipating the rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Wa Azania calls to question the foundations and supposed ideological advancements of the ANC.

READ MORE: ELECTIONS: We are voting for or against corruption

Reflecting on the #FeesMustFall movement, under the editors Wandile Ngcaweni and Busani Ngcaweni in the publication We Are No Longer At Ease (2018), various activists and thinkers banded together to capture what the 2015-’16 protests meant for South Africa’s democracy.

Mcebo Dlamini captures the zeitgeist best, “We were fighting against all ills that affected black people in our society. In our unconsciousness we knew very well that when we say Fees Must Fall we are actually saying blacks and all other oppressed groups must rise.”  To the dismay of hegemonic politics, these oppressed groups also include women and the LGBTQ+-community.

Out of touch with the electorate

Even so, with these fine articulations by the nation’s young intellectuals; we find ourselves days ahead of the election. In recent weeks we have witnessed countless debates, op-ed pieces and an array of political advertisements; all in an attempt of providing clarity.

For people of faith, this has also been the time where we have witnessed various political leaders electioneering from our pulpits and in our sacred spaces. The question should, no doubt, be asked why politicians are only religious at election time?

For philosophers, ethicists, theologians, and people of conscience; this gives rise to questions.

President Zuma’s term in office is the logical conclusion of an ANC unable to implement checks and balances.

In recent months the Zuma-presidency has become a lovely scapegoat to absolve the ANC of its sins, and other parties of their complicity. To be sure, you could note the odd anti-Zuma protest as a multi-party attempt to rid us of our collective corruptibility. Yet, this allows for historical amnesia.

President Zuma’s term in office is the logical conclusion of an ANC unable to implement checks and balances. More than that, other parties have continued to fail to cast alternative visions for our national politics.

It is disrespectful for political formations to pride themselves in merely highlighting the countless flaws of the ruling party. Of course, there is also the Democratic Alliance’s union with white supremacy and the EFF’s totalitarian streak. All this seems to indicate a quagmire in the ideological underpinnings of our various parties. Further, they seem to have fallen out of touch with the material conditions of the South African electorate.

Our national democratic myths

A day before the election, we find ourselves needing a democratic dispensation that is beyond moral malaise and narrow nationalism.

My generation, those supposedly “born-free” and rendered politically “inactive”, has rightly diagnosed the present moment. We have rejected the fallacy of the negotiated settlement and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; calling into question our national democratic myths.

More than that, this generation has sought to breathe life into the proverbial shell of South Africa’s democracy.

Yet this democracy remains beholden to an ethic of complicity, complacency and Afrophobic nationalism.

Giving in to the temptation of apathy would force us to consider normal the fact that our national politics reflects a bygone age – masculine, middle-aged, heterosexist and individualistic.

Of late we have noted the overthrowing of the Sudanese Al-Bashir presidency. Rwanda is on the path towards healing and reconciliation, decades after the genocide. The continent is speedily trekking toward its 2063 vision, as cast by the African Union. This election, like any other, comes at a time when we cannot be apathetic.

Giving in to the temptation of apathy would force us to consider normal the fact that our national politics reflects a bygone age – masculine, middle-aged, heterosexist and individualistic.

History (perhaps we share in the culpability) has dealt the South African electorate a displeasing hand of cards. Yet, how shall we deepen our democratic tradition? This can only be done by citizens who honour that sacred democratic duty of voting, and casting a vision that rejects moral malaise and narrow nationalism. At the end of the day, as 8 May 2019 will note, the holiest place in a democracy is the voting booth.

  • Ashwin Afrikanus Thyssen is currently doing a masters degree in Theology at Stellenbosch University. He comes from Eerste Rivier, just outside Stellenbosch.
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