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Why the social movements were right to boycott the elections

May 29, 2004

Any change we have seen in South Africa in the past 10 years has come about despite the ANC, not because of it. It was not the vote that made the difference, but the fact that we won the right to vote. We won a right to have a say in the running of the country. But by no means should this be restricted to voting. Far more important to actually making a difference in society is a strong and vibrant civil society movement. A strong and independent trades union movement is far more likely to bring about change than the most enlightened manifesto.

Since none of the parties are offering anything, what’s the point of voting for them? By voting for them, you give tactic approval for the dregs they offer.

Ebrahim Harvey argues in the Mail & Guardian that we should vote for one of the alternatives, such as the PAC, AZAPO or the Workers’ International Vanguard League. Quite apart from the fact that the latter is not standing in the election, not having been able to raise enough money, there seems to be no point in voting for the former parties.

Parliamentary democracy, and the election process, is a monumental distraction that gives us the illusion we are participating in the political process. But power doesn’t lie in parliament. Power is economic.

This is not to say that it is impossible to bring about meaningful reforms through parliament. Sometimes in history we are offered a radical alternative to the status quo, and then it makes sense to give our approval and vote for it. Voting for the ANC, or one of the other liberation movements, in 1994 was the right thing to do for this reason. But we make a big mistake if we think that our ‘comrades’ in government are going to take care of things for us. One of the most disempowering things for the once vibrant South African working class has been the fact that we supposedly have comrades in government, therefore the struggle is over and we just need to sit back and wait for government to deliver.

Government will never deliver, and this belief has been a major contributor to the culture of apathy we often see around us. We are sitting here with idle hands, waiting for government to deliver housing, jobs, land. It will never happen. We need to do those things ourselves.

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