A round trip of over 250km, from home to a community-based project established by my organisation, made me realise what these elections are all about. Living in a relatively well-serviced community with its typical problems compared to a typical township made me realise that the local government elections are all about services.
In fact, most political parties based their campaigning on this theme. Some with billboards depicted images of service delivery in progress while others chose to roll up their sleeves and help clean mounds of rubbish from impoverished communities.
Now, depending on who you are, where you live and if you have a job, you may ask how these elections affect you. The truth is that if you live in a decent neighbourhood, have running water and electricity and if your refuse is removed weekly, you are less likely to be affected directly in the short term.
But as the youth of North Africa and the Middle East came to know, short-term can become long-term and a lifetime. And, just as you abdicate your responsibility of electing competent and committed representatives to serve the community, so too, in time, you lose your right to voice your opinion about the role of elected officials.
An Independent Electoral Commission’s voter registration campaign poster, which looked more like a Valentine’s Day card, was spot on. It read vote if you love your country. Indeed, these local government elections have less to do with personalities and politicking and everything to do with the state of our nation. The roads we drive on, the houses we live in, the clinics we visit, our children’s schools and many other municipal services we take for granted.
The Society for African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) works in some of the poorest and most impoverished communities of our country. Many of our recipients live in these communities and we know their plight. How rain water collects in potholes the size of fish ponds and where mounds of uncollected refuse breeds rats. How, already poor families have to walk for long distances to reach a clinic only to be seen by tired, overworked nurses. Where libraries are too few and far between and where a lack of economic opportunities deepens the cycle of poverty.
Service delivery protests, as ugly as they sometimes become, are cries and pleas for help from people who feel marginalised and forgotten. The “Arab Spring”, as it has come to be known, was brought on as much from frustration with unaccountable and unsympathetic leaders as it was from the have’s forgetting the plight of the have not’s.
Don’t forget the poor. They deserve every bit as much help to get decent services as you do. The local government elections is as much about demanding your rights to good service as it is about helping to make a difference in the lives of others. Your vote is their voice.
The Society for African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF) makes an appeal to South Africans to cast their vote on 18 May 2011.
- M. Hoosen Essof is director of the Society for African National Zakah Fund in Gauteng.