Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Fellow Safrican, exonian and rugby demi-god (he plays for the Blues) John Bradshaw sent me the following comment, after I blogged that it seemed that South Africans abroad might be allowed to vote in next year's general election:

"I'd rather comment on the fact that President Mbeki has said that I can vote, even though I am stuck on this minor Island. Though this is great news for me, I can't help feeling that the majority of people that are enfranchised by this move, don't really deserve to vote, being middle class whites who have run away from the realities of South African life, and are refusing to make any contribution to the rainbow nation, other than singing the Afrikaans part of the national anthem at rugby games. If I was in South Africa (as I hope I will be shortly) I don't think that I would want these people having a say in how my country is run. And if that means that the few exceptions who deserve to vote, such as students, ambassadors and military personal, lose the vote while overseas, then that is a sacrifice that we should be prepared to make."

While I understand the sentiment John, I'm afraid I have to disagree. Fundamentally, your comment raises the question of how one determines who should be entitled to rights (such as the right to vote) and who shouldn't. There are sometimes good reasons for not extending a right to certain categories of people. For instance, resource-constraints may, to an extent, legitimately be employed to limit the scope of a right. This, I imagine, is the sort of argument that the ANC would make in defence of its policy on the voting rights of South Africans abroad (presuming that the policy hasn't changed). But, I would venture to say that the type of factors that you cite -- basically, political views that you disagree with, a lack of commitment to the new SA, and a personal distaste for the individuals involved -- should never be employed to limit the scope of rights, especially rights such as the right to vote and the right to freedom of speech. I'm sure you appreciate what a dangerous path that would be. After all, if the argument holds true for citizens outside the country, why not apply it to people inside the country? Why not, for example, disenfranchise all South Africans who aren't deemed sufficiently committed to the new dispensation, regardless of where they live? Clearly, however, that's not a result that any of us would be happy with, largely because we recognise it, intuitively, as a form of tyranny.

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