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Why voting sets us free

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The memories of many South Africans from 27 April 1994 are filled with emotions like hope, excitement, and relief. While for some other South Africans, that momentous day harbours emotions of irritation, impatience, and boredom.

As a five-year-old boy, I vividly remember my mother trying to appease me with Liquifruit apple juice and NikNaks while we waited in a never-ending queue outside Glenhazel Primary School for her to vote. The historic events that were unfolding blew over me like an African National Congress “Vote for Mandela” poster drifting in the wind – I just wanted to go home!

Fifteen years later, in 2009, I was no longer a none-the-wiser five-year-old, and I found myself queuing again at Glenhazel Primary School, ready to vote for the first time. I waved at neighbours, chatted to friends, helped carry an old man in a wheelchair up the stairs because there was no ramp, and made conversation with the people in front and behind me in the queue. The childhood trauma of 27 April 1994 had been reversed. Voting day felt good, and it has continued to feel good ever since.

Election day is much like when the Springboks reach a rugby world cup final. Of late, both take place in a cycle of three to five years and are filled with similar emotions – hope, a sense of patriotism, and a slight underlying feeling of anxiety. On both days, we’re all South Africans just hoping for the best possible outcome.

Much like your car starting first time in the morning, free and fair elections are something we shouldn’t take for granted. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was democratic South Africa. It took many years of blood, sweat, and tears. This is possibly why we take the day off and go to the polls with a sense of purpose. We strategise about what time is best to go to vote, we co-ordinate with our friends and family so that we can arrive at the same time, we get the Jik at home on standby so that the ink doesn’t stain our thumb for months, and we bring our best attitude on the day. After we vote, we post a mandatory ink-stained thumb selfie on family WhatsApp groups and social media, and we tell our families about the random conversations we had with people in the queue.

Elections day is South Africa’s Pesach seder, where we celebrate the hard-fought freedom and liberties that thankfully many South Africans still enjoy today. We also remind ourselves where we came from and the challenges that lie ahead.

While our government does its level best to destroy any sense of pride we have as South Africans, when it comes to elections, its feels good to be a South African.

  • Dylan Berger is editorial co-ordinator at the SA Jewish Report.

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