Saturday, October 11, 2003

In case you haven't yet heard the ANC recently passed a bill that preventsSouth Africans living abroad from voting in the next general election. Coming in the wake of the govts failure to offer even token condemnation of Robert Mugabe's antics in Zimbabwe this strikes me as a further example of the cynical view that the ANC has begun to take of democracy.

There should be no doubt that the calculation was that the majority of South Africans living abroad were unlikely to be ANC supporters and thus disenfranchising them would be a useful tool in the race to retain the 2/3rds majority. I don't buy for a second the argument that the govt is constrained by a lack of resources. South Africa is a middle income country not a destitute one and a quick glance around shows that many other middle income countries (Poland and the Phillippines spring to mind) allow their expats to vote. Furthermore, nobody expects the govt to post ballot forms to every citizen living abroad, just to set up polling booths in the main embassies on the day of the election. I should think it unlikely that this would strain the national budget unduly.

Debates about resources miss the point however. The right to vote ought to be seen as an absolute right, which is to say that it should not be contingent upon anything, be it resource constraints or anything else. If the struggle for the universal franchise and the lives that were lost during that struggle are to have any meaning then the govt should feel hidebound to ensure that every eligible South African is able to vote. Our freedoms are a function of our ability to wield this one power and it is important therefore that we ensure that that power is not downgraded and that it does not become viewed as expendable or contingent. That way lies ruin...


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