Whether they vote or not, the excluded, oppressed and routinely killed are NOT stupid!

 


If previous trends continue, millions of people will choose not to vote on 3 August in the local elections across South Africa. According to Eusebius McKaiser people abstain from voting because they either think voting will not make a difference, or they think it will implicate them morally in a system they do not agree with. These reasons are ‘stupid’, according to McKaiser.

It is breathtakingly arrogant to judge people stupid without knowledge of their goals, and, unlike McKaiser, I do not presume to know the goals of the millions who will not be voting. It is however necessary to say that it is not at all stupid to refrain from doing something you believe will not change anything. To do or not do something for moral reasons, even if it affects you materially in bad ways, only seems stupid to people who believe material self-interest should always be the only or main motivation for political actions.

Perhaps it is more important to remember that there are good practical reasons to abstain from voting for an important group among those who are staying away from the polls. In their case we have a good idea of what their goals are, because they have been articulating it since at least the elections of 2004. I am referring to the various social movements and protest groups that have arisen against the neoliberal capitalist approach of the state and taking positions like ‘no land, no vote’ or ‘no housing, no vote.’ Examples of these movements include the Landless People’s Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum.

While the early post-2000 social movements have become much weakened or defunct, their line of thinking has continued to find resonance. The latest group to take it up powerfully is organizing under the hashtag #IamSpoilingMyBallotWithMyBlood in the Cape Town township of Bonteheuwel. This campaign is led by a group of activists mainly associated with the Joint Peace Forum. They are resisting the waves of gang violence that killed thousands of Bonteheuwel residents with the complicity of the police and politicians of all stripes.

The most important idea behind the actions of these activists is that the system oppresses them to such a degree that they need to build movements as alternative sources of power capable of fighting the system as a whole. This does not mean voting and working within the system is morally wrong or does not make any difference. It means that the changes possible within the system still leave people trapped in the hellhole Bonteheuwel has become. It is also based on the calculation that whoever is in power of those on offer, people are better off when they have strong grassroots movements.

Far from being stupid, the decision to refrain from voting serves this movement building agenda perfectly. As we learned from boycotting the tricameral parliament and other Apartheid institutions, building effective liberation movements require foregoing the marginal benefits of working within the system, in favor of the more important benefits of drawing a clear line between oppressor and oppressed. McKaiser cannot see this, because his watered down liberalism tells him we have the best possible form of democracy. Those excluded, oppressed and killed routinely, beg to differ. It’s stupid to think of them as stupid.

(This series is about the unbreakable link between means and ends in politics – the tyranny of politics.)

 

(Image Credit: IOL)

 

About Ronald Wesso

Ronald Wesso lives in Johannesburg and has worked in trade unions, social movements, and nongovernmental organizations.