What It Was Like To Vote For The First Time

Your girl voted! Oh yes she did!

It was a strange experience, that’s for sure. But one I won’t forget. We can talk politics all day, vent our anger and disillusionment and our ‘is it even worth it anyway’ thoughts, but all that goes away when you’re in the queue, when casting your vote is that tangible…

So, come Wednesday morning my roommates and I woke up before the sun had risen and planned to walk just up the road from our digs to our voting station… But alas, it was raining. Such fun! So we drove there, hoping it was going to be a quick turn around considering how early it was and that it was raining and all. Well, we didn’t get so lucky. I’m not sure whether to blame this on our naivety as first time voters, or the process we faced where there weren’t enough ballots for everyone in the queue other than the first ten people…

Anyway, there we were, standing in a long queue (which we were not expecting) at 7 in the morning (on empty stomachs), in the dark and the rain (okay so the sun hadn’t risen yet and we were under cover but still) and we waited to cast our votes. I could feel the anticipation building in myself, despite the cold. I was buzzing at the thought of having a say in my democracy. It’s not something I’ve ever felt before. I’ve always been unable to comment: too young, too unknowledgeable, too naïve. But no more.

As we were waiting and considering the whole process of voting, my friend pointed out something so interesting and yet so problematic that had occurred at our station. She was the only person of colour in the queue. Everyone else was white…

We voted at Westerford High School, which is situated in Rondebosch: a mostly white, middle class suburb in Cape Town. The majority of the people who surrounded us at that voting station were white. And a lot of them were parents. Of course on one level this makes sense – we were voting at a high school so there must have been parents in the area who send their children to that school. However, the fact that most of those parents were white also says a lot about the area’s age and race demographics. And more than that, it says a lot about how our country is divided along racial lines.

Our country is not just ideologically, socio-economically or politically divided as these elections will no doubt prove, but physically and geographically divided. And that is not right. Nor is it fair.

It was interesting then to stand in that queue and consider my privilege. It was also INTENSELY frustrating to be considering my privilege and how to battle it, while simultaneously listening to the white mommies who were complaining, (if only there was a manager they could’ve spoken to) about the fact that there weren’t enough ballot papers! How absolutely outrageous, I can’t believe you guys are this disorganised!? Don’t you know that I have places to be?? (You know the voice you should be reading this in).

Blah blah blah! No, but you know what Karen, it’s absolutely outrageous that you think it’s okay to shout at an IEC worker, who probably has little to no control over what’s going on and is just trying to do their job so that we can all vote fairly, and all this at 7am! Can you please just calm down?!

Standing in that line and being confronted with blatant and infuriating white privilege, as well as my own deep frustration about that and many other injustices in our country, gave my vote a new perspective. And since we were waiting for ballot papers to arrive, I had some time to think…

How was I going to vote that my voice might have weight? Will the party that I vote for, if in power or not, fight for the inclusion of people of colour into traditionally ‘white’ spaces? Will they fight to break down socio-economic barriers that currently prevent so many South Africans, specifically people of colour, from flourishing? Will the party I vote for do everything in its power to provide housing and employment for the poorest people in South Africa, who have been continually oppressed by the system? Will the party I vote for place taxes on the wealthiest among us rather than the poorest? Will they confront white privilege? Will they confront male privilege? What about gender based violence? And rights and inclusive spaces for LGBTQIA+ people? And what about our xenophobia crisis? Or will the party I vote for just maintain the cycles of injustice that exist currently?

I don’t know if it’s possible to know the answer to all these questions. All I can do is hope. Hope that whichever party is in power, and whoever the opposition, our government can be pushed into action.

Our fingers after voting for the first time!

Regardless, in the face of frustration and disillusionment, I am glad that I voted. And I’m glad that I have friends with whom I can voice, ponder and discuss these issues.

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