Sunday, 31 July 2016

A Voice for my Vote

Something got Granddad excited this weekend.
He is a man that has dedicated his life to art, teaching and photography. He is the quint-essential hipster bohemian. In fact, on the rare occasion that I wear my Granddads clothes, I feel incredible (a song reference, for those born pre-1990). So it is always a big deal when something gets him excited, because he spends the majority of his time pondering his next existential artistic comment on life.
In the kitchen this past Saturday my grandfather arrives with a sense of urgency in his step.
“Hello my boy,” – there are only a few people in my life that get social license to call me ‘my boy’ at age 25, and Granddad is one of them – “you need to come and see this.”
“OK Granddad, I’ll be right there.”
In the midst of rushing to get to the Lions game before kick-off I was more abrupt than usual. Adorning as much red as I could muster I was frantically searching for a Castle Lager hat I won at a corporate function a few months prior. After a few moments I noticed he was still at the door, waiting for me. Odd that he hadn’t pottered back to his studio - clearly this was urgent for him.
“Alright Granddad, what’s up?”
He led me through the yard and sat me down in front of a TV set next to his bed. There on the screen, adorned in his standard blue suit with a crisp white button shirt, stood Mmusi Maimane, Obama-fying a crowd of equally blue DA supporters.
To understand why this rally on the television had my grandfather in such a grip of excitement, some context is needed.
Granddad turned 79 this year. That makes him a toddler the day Hitler starts a war that would bury 60 million people. That also makes him an observer to the fall of Smuts, the rise of DF Malan and the eventual crowning of the ANC as liberators and saviours of the Republic of South Africa. Plenty spectator value available if you plan to live for more than seven decades.
Over dinner he once told me about printing posters for the Progressive Party on his personal printing press in the garage out back. Always an ardent supporter of Helen Suzman, leader of the opposition to the oppressive apartheid government, it made sense that he would eventually end up helping ‘the commies’ in one way or another. My grandfather was merely the latest subscriber to our familial habit of being anti-establishment – his mother, my great grandmother, was a loyal member of the Black Sash movement which actively campaigned for gender equality during the apartheid years.
He also told me about his dastardly election luck.
“I have voted in many elections my boy, but I am yet to vote for the winning party.”
There’s some real gravitas to that realisation. Imagine spending a lifetime being led by the people you never asked to lead you?
It is no substantial hardship, to be fair. The man found himself on the right side of a racially oppressive system, which has undoubtedly led to his grandchildren leading the rich and fulfilled lives they do today. His voting predicament lends but a lens to the current political rumblings.
Granddad was excited because he felt, for the first time in his life, that his party might win.
Watching Mmusi on that stage, effortlessly stringing together a work of multilingual magic certainly gave me shivers. Delivered with such poise and honesty, Maimane’s speech began to mend the rent in my trust that had been so unceremoniously ripped by years of political babble by our incumbent leadership. He effortlessly wove a tapestry of hope, calling us South Africans instead of “blacks” and “whites”. There was another man who seemed so able to mend the broken faith of a nation. His name was Nelson Mandela.
Maimane took pains to explain his personal journey to the top of the official opposition’s ranks. From his days playing soccer in the dusty streets of Dobsonville to his eventual conclusion that the ANC of Zuma was not the ANC of Madiba, Maimane took us through his emotional realisation that South Africa simply could not continue of its current trajectory. His frank, honest delivery created the perfect foundation for all of the goals he intended to score.
No, Madiba would not vote for the current ANC. Yes, it’s ok to change your mind for each election. No, the DA hasn’t got it all right so far, but it’s doing better than the rest wherever it governs. His speech provided the perfect crescendo to months of electioneering, a musical resolution fitting the final pieces together of the election promise on offer: jobs, clean governance and service delivery for all.
Stepping back into my grandfather’s shoes, I could understand why this was a big deal for him. He had studiously followed the Progressive Party and all of its subsequent iterations for his entire life. This Dobsonville rally represented a culmination of decades of work, and he felt that finally his version of non-racial, liberal governance might have its time in the sun.
Cards on the table: it will take a monumental effort to effectively squeeze one of the contentious metro’s out of ANC grasp. The Ellis Park rally on Sunday evidenced how the African National Congress is more religion than institution. But cracks are appearing in the veneer, and the hens of patronage and looting seem to be coming home to roost. Polls in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane are postulating a two-horse race, with a potential king-maker in the wings led by Julius Malema. Clearly ANC polling is saying something similar, as there has never before been so significant a backlash from the ANC to the official opposition. Too little too late?
The apartheid government also tended to ignore Helen Suzman and her ‘commie’ ideals. Perhaps if they had paid a little more attention they would not have been blindsided by the anti-apartheid movement so convincingly. Isn’t it interesting to see how much things seem to change. Even more interesting is how much they stay the same.
Granddad has believed in non-racial governance his entire life. Under the apartheid regime he silently worked on the side of liberation, in the small ways that a bohemian hipster might contribute to the struggle: a poster here, a provocative piece of art there. Now, standing in that living room, watching a black man lead his party with pride, I can only imagine the emotions swelling in his heart. At the age of 79, Granddad might get his first opportunity to vote for the winner.
He will likely never be able to see his ideals represented in government - this country is still a while away from a serious political hand-over. But on Wednesday 3 August 2016 he will cast a ballot, and on that ballot he will write a hope. A hope for a democracy he may never be a part of. A hope for a leader he may never follow. A hope that his children’s children might one day live in the non-racial South Africa he spent his life dreaming about. Democracy can be beautiful. Sometimes you just need to wait awhile to see it.

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