Make your mark when you cast your vote
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is speaking in her column about life as a South African now living in Germany. The South African journalist lives in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
Sunday was Africa Day and when those in Europe took to the voting stations, to cast votes in the European and communal elections. As a South African, the two recent elections have proved quite interesting. We should treasure our right to vote!
Casting my vote in 1994 for the first time, with the rest of all the South Africans was a truly historic event. We stood for hours in long, winding queues to put our cross next to the party which we felt truly represented our ideals. For many ex-pats now based in Germany, casting their vote for the South African election recently was an important event and they travelled to Berlin to take part.
Not surprisingly, the party that got the largest vote abroad was the DA (Democratic Alliance), who in the past was the DP (Democratic Party) and PFP (Progressive Federal Party), the only white liberal parties in Apartheid South Africa. A lot of people who have emigrated abroad have done so as they are unhappy with how the country is being run by the African National Congress. It is thus, not surprisingly that they chose the party which claims to the opposition to the ANC to vote for.
Living abroad, there seems no need to vote in an election for a country where we no longer live but I understand the passion that ex-pats have for the country of their birth. If it hadn’t have been such a mission to register and physically travel to Berlin to cast my vote – I would also have voted, even though it seems nonsense to vote for a party which will not directly affect my present day life.
On Sunday however, I and a few South Africans who have the right documentation, could go and make our voices heard in the EU and local communal elections. With our history, voting is still a very big deal. We know, having living through a time where the majority of the citizens were refused the right to vote, that voting is vital for a healthy society.
If we don’t like right-wingers we need not vote for the NPD (the neo-Nazi party) or the AFD (Alternative for Germany – also quite right-wing). If we are pro-immigration and feel newcomers should be welcomed and not shunned, we can vote for BÜNDNIS 90/ DIE GRÜNEN (the Greens) or the DIE LINKE (the left party). Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU is not keen on accepting Turkey into the EU and the largest group of foreigners in Germany is the Turks.
As South Africans living here, we are inclined to be sidelined as foreigners and have to fight to prove we are decent folk who also speak German, are prepared to turn down the music after 10pm and will keep to ourselves. Once those hurdles are crossed – and we show how hard we work, we are accepted.
So when it comes to casting our votes, it is important to choose a party that will truly show they fulfill our needs and wishes. DIE LINKE, the left party speaks to Africans in that one of their election promises is that they will stop weapon exports to Africa. They welcome foreigners and feel the diversity is good for the country. The FDP (liberal party) has suffered a loss of confidence over the past years in leadership but their representatives speak for those interested in having business increased while keeping ownership at home.
BÜNDNIS 90/ DIE GRÜNEN (green party) focus on environmental issues and are against genetic engineering in crops, for wind and solar energy and are still the hippies of the political scene. The PIRATEN (the pirates) spoke to voters in the past as it is the youngest political party and focuses on internet freedom, no to NSA spying and for transparency in politics.
The fact is – in Germany there are only two major parties that get anywhere – Merkel’s CDU and the SPD (the socialist democrats) and both are so similar in their policies that many foreigners end up voting for one of the other parties written about earlier. A vote for them, however means a vote cast but the chance of your party getting into power is minimal. This could explain voter apathy.
I went with my Born-Free who was born exactly two years after Madiba’s inauguration to cast my vote. She prepared by watching all the parties TV spots and spent her time in the booth, before marking her four voting papers. To live in a democratic world, is a truly wonderful thing and should be appreciated.