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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Rubrieke | Columns > Christina Engela: Fundamentally Speaking

X spots the mark


Christina Engela - 2010-08-26

On Saturday I was at a canvassing table in my voting district, asking people to sign a petition against the government’s proposed new legislation which will gag the media. Surprisingly, a broad base of people of every language, race and political affiliation signed the petition and commented freely about how bad this law would be for everyone. This was encouraging, but what still shocked me was the number of people who just waved me off – or laughed, as if there was something actually funny in asking people to exercise their democratic right and sign a petition against something which would strip them of their freedom to access information.

"I don't do politics," one smart-looking dude told me. "But politics will do you!" I replied, while he and his girlfriend stared at me as though I were from another planet.

Others commented about what a rush their Saturday morning was, that they "didn't have time", and how much more important that rush to buy a loaf of bread or bottle of milk at the store was than securing their democratic freedom to an independent press. In fact, I wonder if any of them even knew what "freedom of the Press" means, even after I took pains to translate it for them. Others said they would come back later, or just said "not now" - prompting me to think that they would probably worry about their civil rights only after they have lost them, which makes no sense, does it? Yes, laugh about it - politics is "uncool", isn't it? Laugh it up, folks – but will you still be laughing on the other side? I hope we don't have to find out.

And some of them will definitely sit on the sidelines, or in front of the idiot box, being fed only good news, as they are in the Arab countries - asking out loud why "somebody" didn't do something. Needless to say, this ignorant, condescending "don't be silly, why should I give a flying fuck about my (or your) civil rights" attitude frustrated me to the nth degree. After all, how dare I bother them to protect their own democratic protections? What's “wrong with me" that I take seriously this move to take away my right to know what's going on in the world around me and don't want to go through life oblivious to reality? Couldn't I see the lovely pair of blinkers they were wearing? Very cool. No actually, I couldn't - because their heads were stuck so far up their own asses they disappeared from the neck up. Grr.

In most countries today people are expected to pass a learner’s and then a driver's license test to operate a vehicle safely on public roads - but any fool over 18 years with an ID document can go and vote - or not - and affect the course of the entire nation in an election - regardless of how much or how little they know about politics, the government, current affairs, or whatever party or officials they are voting for. Now, I'm not suggesting we prevent people from voting - goodness knows, we have few enough of them already - but we should take the trouble to educate voters. Of course, the current government won't share this view, because having masses of ignorant voters who will make their mark wherever they are told to, suits them.

Voter education and education on democracy should be introduced into schools as a subject - and so should a system of elections for "class president" as they have in some foreign schools, particularly the US. How can this country - purportedly the shining light of democracy in Darkest Africa – produce competent voters and politicians and future leaders if the constituents (and their children, who, I am continually reminded, are the future) know nothing at all about the operation of the body politic?

In fact, in such countries they may as well print ballot papers with the "X" already in the desired boxes, which will come in quite handy should anyone happen to conveniently "find" another lost ballot box full of votes for the ruling party on the side of a country road.

Voters should be educated - ignorant voters are people who vote where they are told to vote, and this leads to situations like the catastrophe called Zimbabwe, where people will swallow any old thing Uncle Bob dishes out - and make a cross next to Zanu PF just on the basis of brand loyalty and because he's some kind of revolutionary war hero who makes entertaining speeches telling Britain and the US to go to hell, and because he says so.

Elections in some countries make me shake my head. Take the Zim elections in 2008 - Bob was beaten fair and square, remember - he was out-voted; but suddenly there was a ruckus and two years later he is still being called "President Robert Mugabe" and making state visits all over the world as if he is in any way legitimate. He and Morgan sit around a table pretending they are working for democracy and the betterment of people's lives, while leaving the civil rights of a good portion of Zim's people out of the country's new constitution - which will be quite worthless and undemocratic in the end if it does not include them.

Very amusing is the demand by a pompous little dictator - a leader who has clung to power for 30 years through all manner of wrongdoing, intimidation and crookery - that the West drop all sanctions, “or else”. Or else what, dude? The only people who will suffer more if he doesn't step down and let democracy take over are his own people - and they keep him in power by voting where he tells them - and cheering this sycophant on when he makes his buffoonish speeches, which they swallow wholesale. And that is exactly what happens in a country which does not have freedom of the Press.

You see, human rights and the right to equality are debatable and have variable value, depending on what government is in power at any given time. And when there is a democratically elected government - and this government turns on the people that voted it into power in an attempt to take away the power that put them there - in effect preventing them from being replaced - and the people do not react negatively to this, then there has to be something wrong somewhere.

Which just proves my point: people don't know the first thing about politics, about the policies and activities of whatever party they supposedly support - or even the others they don't support - or why they don't support them. If they did, then there would be no reason to panic. Perhaps the Protection of Information Bill really won't affect the people who couldn't be bothered to sign a petition opposing it - I mean, they obviously agree that they don't need to know everything in the news, that they really don't want to know what the government in their employ has been getting up to in their name - or how corrupt they are.

Not being interested is really the same as saying, "Sure, take away freedom of the Press - I don't need it."

At this point I have to say that I feel such people are a bunch of apathetic idiots, and they really don't deserve democracy. They make me crazy - it is because of people like them that our country is in such a state at the moment. It isn't the all ANC's fault - hell no, it is the fault of people who should be voting by their conscience instead of passing the buck and sticking their heads in the sand like ostriches.

That's right - if you refuse to vote, refuse to be drawn into political duties that come with being a citizen in a democracy, and the government starts to act unilaterally and you don't vote the fuckers out or tell them "No!" - then it is your fault.

You don't care about your civil rights or freedoms; you don't care about knowing what's going on around you - and the government has noticed this and wants to take away your right to do so, ensuring that they will continue to do as they wish with your blessing of silence. Then you should be happy when they pass the Protection of Information Bill, because then you won't be expected to do anything but believe all the bullshit they put in the papers and on TV news - and to say "yes" when and where they tell you to.

Think about it: if all those useless excuses for South African citizens who refuse to vote, sitting next to you on the bus, or in the next cubicle at the office - those losers - had to actually vote instead of criticising without participating, what a difference that would make!

If you won't register to vote, or get off your ass to vote - then you are stupid!! It is your fault South Africa has half the problems it has. You might be able to blame the government for half of the problems we have - but the other half is your fault for sitting apathetically on the sidelines and not voting!

The government has decided you don't need to know what they are doing in your name, and they have spotted their mark - and it is you.