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SA expats turn out in their thousands to vote

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Although they may be far from the country of their birth, South African expats around the globe went out in their thousands to vote on 18 and 19 May.

Businessman Gavin Fait, who emigrated to the United Kingdom (UK) five years ago, said that when he arrived at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, 18 May, he was bombarded with images of home. “We saw biltong being eaten, Savanna and Castle being drunk, Springbok jerseys, and music blaring.”

Founder and director of the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Mary Kluk, happened to be in the UK for elections. She said, “We couldn’t believe the length of the queue when we arrived. Various political parties were walking among the crowds, some handing out pamphlets and one distributing Chappies bubble gum, which I loved. Once we were inside, the voting process was smooth and well-managed in a typically warm and friendly South African environment. This opportunity to vote in spite of not being able to be at home on election day meant the world to me and many thousands of others, it would seem.”

Optometrist, Megan Jacobson, 39, moved to London last year with her family, and was excited to be surrounded by a South African community so far away from the country. “The South African shop was brilliant with its advertising,” she said, “handing out biltong and droëwors,. I was especially grateful for that. It was so delicious to have a bite of home.”

Stephanie Daleski, a former teacher at King David who has been living in London for two years said, “As soon as we left the tube station, we saw South African flags everywhere, and it was great for my children to see and learn a bit more about their South African heritage.”

Those who were unable to get to Trafalgar Square on Saturday were still able to vote on Sunday, 19 May. Said David Abramowitz, “My wife and I were excited to be voting, especially because we thought initially that we couldn’t vote as it would take place only on a Saturday. We were glad when it was extended to Sunday because we could vote and still keep Shabbat.”

Abramowitz works for a large global mining company and left South Africa when he got an unexpected transfer to the UK head office.

Health and wellness coach Lara Maillich, who moved to the UK nine months ago, waited for more than three hours to cast her vote. She said she and her husband were more than prepared to wait any amount of time to have their say in South African life. “When I walked into the buildings of Trafalgar Square, I just wanted to cry. I thought it was amazing that no matter what anyone feels, I’m South African, and no-one can take that away from me. I felt proud to be South African and to cast my vote.”

It wasn’t only in London that South African expats queued to cast their vote. Michelle Hughes, an ex-South African who lives in Amsterdam and works in marketing, travelled to The Hague to cast her vote. She joined the queue three hours after the voting station opened, and cast her vote only six hours later. Friends of hers who joined the queue a while later queued for seven and a half hours.

“There were only two portable toilets supplied which were overflowing by the middle of the day,” she said. “Some very kind Dutchies opened their toilets to desperate people, and some other Dutch kids started setting up lemonade stands spontaneously.

“South Africans showed up in high spirits regardless. Wearing South African flags, handing out free braai salt samples [kuierkos], rocking their veldskoen, African map t-shirts, and necklaces. Being surrounded by so many South African accents was a weird and wonderful experience.”

Similarly, immigration coach Dan Brotman, who identifies as a South African by choice, relocated to Canada from Johannesburg in 2018 and wanted to ensure that he participated in South Africa’s democracy. Brotman had to travel from Portland, Oregon, to where he lives in Windsor, Ontario, and then to Toronto to cast his vote. He was disappointed in how few South African expats in Canada made the effort to go and vote.

“Leading up to the election, I reached out to friends and asked them if they were going to vote. Very few intended to vote, and that made me sad because I think it’s crucial. Especially as Jewish people saw the stance South Africa took this year against Israel and the fact that South African voters in Israel couldn’t vote because there wasn’t a polling station, I felt an even greater responsibility to go to the polls this year and express my dissatisfaction with the policies of the African National Congress government not only towards Israel but also towards the country itself.”

Retiree, Polly Davies, 81, has been living outside of Lisbon, Portugal, for six years and was one of the 600 expats who voted in the country. She said the process was efficient and “everyone was so happy and smiling. It just makes me proud to be a part of the South African community and have my say in what goes on.”

Errol and Roma Stein, who live in Sydney, Australia, ensured that they were able to travel to the only place where South Africans could vote in the country on 18 May – Canberra. “We come to South Africa every year and we can see that the country desperately needs change,” they said. “We’re delighted to know that our little votes can be counted to make the change that South Africa desperately needs.”

Hughes summed it up, by saying, “We voted for our future selves, as well as for our families and friends. Every vote counts, and if we can queue for seven hours, you can do your bit for an hour or less in South Africa in a few days.”

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