“It’s a joke,” Vetfaan says as he accepts a cold beer from Boggel. “We vote, and nothing changes. Every election is the same – promises and more promises…and then nothing.”
“It’s called democracy, Vetfaan. Everybody casts a vote, and the majority wins. Simple. It’s the way things are done.” Kleinpiet sighs – he, too, believed the President when he promised millions of work opportunities last time. Now only one out of three people in the country contributes to the labour force. “Unemployment is up again, masses of people get some sort of social grant, and we have to foot the bill.”
“In the old republics – before we lost the war to England in 1902 – they had a better system.” Trust Servaas to hark back to olden times. “A man got elected because of what he had done. Promises counted for nothing: you first had to prove your worth before you were sent to parliament. Nowadays you can promise the jobless people more money for doing nothing, and Bingo! you get a cushy job, a seat in parliament and an expense account. Talking gets you elected, irrespective of whether you are ever going to do what you say you will.”
“That is true. If 66% of people don’t work, they look at government for help. So the twenty-odd percent of people who pay taxes en up as being cash cows for the rest. In fact, I saw an article stating that 1,25 million people contributed 82% of the revenue in the 2010/2011 tax year. Remember, the population totals about 52 million.” The wry smile on Gertruida’s face speaks volumes. “Work it out, guys. All the government needs is a majority. And all they have to do to remain in power, is to keep on milking the cow, keep the rest jobless, and then they can build as many Nkandla’s as they like.”
“Then it’s not worth voting, is it? I mean; Zuma is going to be laughing all the way from the polling station…to a few other places as well. We, on the other hand, will be left with exactly the same mess we have now. It’s all smoke and mirrors.” Remembering the way things are done in England, Fanny still wants to see the day a South African minister gets up in public to accept responsibility for the problems in his (or her) department.
Gertruida shakes her head. “We have to vote, Fanny. Our only hope is to elect an effective opposition. I don’t mind the ANC ruling – or any other party, for that matter. What is important is that whoever gets elected, gets to be under proper scrutiny. Any government with too much power is apt to go wrong – there are too few checks and balances. Even if you are a staunch supporter of the government of the day, you have to understand that principle. With a non-existent opposition, the guys in power can do anything they want with impunity. The answer lies in balance. Balance the power and you balance the way the government rules over the country.”
“There’s the story of the grasshoppers, isn’t there? Long ago the veld was covered in green grass and the antelopes had more than enough grass. They prospered. Then the lions came, and started hunting them down. This was necessary to keep the bucks from overgrazing the area. But…if they caught too many, the lions would starve.
“So they found a balance: too many lions, and the antelopes would be too few to feed them. Too many antelopes, and the grass would run out. But…with the number of antelopes just right, the amount of lions exactly balanced, then the grass would be enough to keep the feeding chain happy.
“But then, one day, the grasshoppers arrived. They ate the grass. The antelopes starved and stopped multiplying. They lions finally ate the last antelope before they, too, couldn’t survive either.
“Did the grasshoppers mind? No. They simply went ahead and started destroying a new pasture. They will survive, no matter what…also because they leave the devastation they cause behind. And of course, they don’t stick around to see the catastrophe they created.”
Oudoom sits down with a sigh. “So, what should the antelopes have done, Gertruida? They can’t fight the grasshoppers, can they?”
“No, they cant. But they didn’t elect the grasshoppers, either. That’s the difference. Democracy means you have to elect a responsible government. In the end, it’s about the country, not the party. The country needs a balanced government.” Signalling for another beer, Gertruida pauses for a moment. “Free and fair elections mean just that. You vote for freedom. You vote for a fair government. And that implies a balanced parliament.”
“It’s a message Africa doesn’t understand, Gertruida. You vote for the strong man, and that’s the way it is. Survival of the strongest. We can boast with a free and fair process, but the homeless and the jobless masses will vote for the hand that promises to feed them. And remember, the criminal in jail has exactly the same vote as the captain of industry. I don’t think that’s fair.” This has been one of Vetfaan’s main gripes lately, so he ignores the shrugs and rolled eyes of the rest.
“So the grasshoppers will destroy everything?”
“Yes, they will. But we can hope for a proper opposition this time.” Having noted the polls lately, Gertruida expects the ruling party to retain a comfortable majority. “Let’s hope people will be fair in their decision to draw their crosses in the right little spaces. Freedom isn’t free – it carries a heavy responsibility…it requires you to be fair to the rest of your countrymen.”
“Sure, Gertruida, sure.” Sarcasm drips from Servaas’ remark. “But not in Africa, my dear. Fairness, responsibility and freedom have long emigrated to greener pastures. Zuma said the ANC will rule until Christ comes again…”
Before het could continue, Oudoom gets up, very much upset. “That, my friends, is what’s wrong. Remember the crewman who told Mrs Caldwell that even God couldn’t sink the Titanic? Well, He did.
“There’s a fine line between mockery and political bragging. My take? God is always fair…unless you try to make a fool out of Him. Now, He may choose to let everything remain as is, but mark my words: it’s all there in Galatians 6.” He pauses, just like he does on the pulpit on Sundays, before repeating his question. “My take? A slip in this election, a fall in the next.”
They’ll continue discussing the issue for some time. Then they’ll all drive off to Grootdrink to cast their votes…and pray that the electorate will, this time, be fair and at least think about what they’re doing…