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By Enkosi Selane

Digital Journalist

A first-time voter’s frustration: Settling for scraps in SA

It frustrates me how South Africans are often expected to settle for scraps - accepting subpar living conditions as a privilege, rather than demanding our basic constitutional rights, like clean air, as a standard.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the world’s attitude change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do”, or in the popularly-known phrase: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi’s words were the first thing that came to mind when my editor suggested I scribble down my thoughts on participating in this year’s elections.

I reflected on the significance of casting my ballot for the first time and Ghandi’s message reminded me that actual change begins from within.

You have to want better and actually be better for yourself, and that our individual actions can collectively shape the world around us.

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A walk to the polls

As I exercised my right to vote, I felt empowered to be a part of that change.

It was nothing like I thought it would be.

I walked from Bree taxi rank to my voting station in Braamfontein on Monday afternoon.

Along the way, I saw the many things I hoped my vote would change. The unsanitary streets many Joburgers have to walk through daily – and, no, please don’t blame it on the strike. Even blaming it on the strike would be normalising the devastation frequent strikes cause.

As I navigated the streets, I almost got hit by a taxi that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I couldn’t tell if it was swerving to avoid a pothole or taking advantage of the broken robots.

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Shaking off the shock, I continued on my way, eventually reaching Braam. You know the ghetto side of it near the Queen Elizabeth Bridge that’s often feared by many students?

Yet, despite its reputation, Braam looked cleaner than the central business district I had just left behind. Of course, it still had its flaws, but I couldn’t ignore the stark contrast to the neglect and disrepair I had witnessed earlier.

This disparity frustrated and reminded me of how we as South Africans are often expected to settle for scraps. We accept subpar living conditions as a privilege, rather than demanding our basic constitutional rights, like clean air, as a standard.

We deserve better, and it’s time we stop accepting breadcrumbs from those in power.

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Before I finally reached my destination I asked for directions from two adults. The lady pointed to the voting station which was low-key hidden and all I could see were ANC members.

I thanked the pair and waited for the robot to turn green when I heard a man saying “On Wednesday I’ll just come vote here, it’s closer to work than the station I registered at”.

Uxolo tata” – and that’s my loud mouth trying to get the man’s attention.

“I’m afraid you can’t do that, you won’t be allowed to vote at any other station but the one you registered at,” I told him. He and his colleague looked at me strangely.

That didn’t stop me though and I went on.

“Well, unless you applied for an exception, you will be turned away”.

Still looking at me like I just grew two heads, one responded “Oh” and walked away.

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Politicians and privileges

As I crossed the street, I was struck by the crisp, clean air and the well-maintained surroundings.

It’s no surprise, given the City Council chambers are located here. But then I thought of the undeniable contrast at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters, with its neglected and dirty exterior.

Another stark reminder that if the ANC doesn’t care about their own backyard, why would they prioritize the needs and desires of ordinary South Africans like me?

This realisation reignited my frustration, especially when I thought of those who still hold onto hope. Like my grandmother, who has clung to it for 30 long years.

It’s heartbreaking to see them suffering – struggling with poverty, illness, and unemployment – yet still believing that the very people who live in luxury, disconnected from their reality, will come to their rescue.

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Now out of my head, and taking in my surroundings, I approached the ANC members and one of them accompanied me to the polling site.

“Vote for the man on my t-shirt”, he said and I asked him why.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he answers.

I laughed and went inside.

To my surprise, not a lot of people were there. It didn’t take me more than five minutes to get everything done.

I felt a surge of excitement and couldn’t wait to tell the world that I just marked my first ballots.

A good feeling of hope engulfed me.

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Reality check

The sense of hope soon vanished with the thought that as much as I hope for a better South Africa where a mother doesn’t have to kill her children and herself because of starvation or a South Africa where my brother, uncle or mom doesn’t have to wait for the end of the month for a R370 that can barely sustain a person through the week, it may never come.

You just have to pick your devil and hope for the best, and that’s what I did.

So even if the ANC does win, I’ll sleep better at night knowing it’s not from my vote, while also worrying about a future where people have to settle for scraps.

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