Red overalls



Can we please celebrate red overalls in Parliament? Not just allow them, not just tolerate them, but take delight in what they symbolise?


When dissenters aspire to sit in Parliament, rather than burn it down, South African democracy is coming out of nappies.


As it grows, we can begin to recognise the shape of our democracy. It is resilient and contradictory.


In Bekkersdal, voting stations were torched in the early hours of the morning. By 6a.m. voting queues had formed, with dancing. Soon, the IEC had put tents up and equipped them with ballot boxes and all the paraphernalia of democracy. Voting then proceeded normally.


Our institutions are fast on their feet, our voters are resilient and hopeful. The good South African tradition of making a plan works for our democracy too.


We have strong new democratic wineskins, but what about the wine?


What happened next in Bekkersdal is instructive. The months of rage at local government corruption, non-delivery and police violence, the ripping up of the roads and the burning down of the voting stations, all translated into a 75% majority for the ANC. The fact is, many of us still vote for the political party our parents supported.


How do we take the next step? Leaving it all to the politicians is unlikely to get us where we need to be.


Will the bornfrees bring the new ideas, the bridging visions that will make changing allegiances possible? Only 33% of bornfrees are registered voters. Perhaps we need to make more of an effort to help them participate. Perhaps registering as a voter should be part of Life Orientation in matric? Matrics need to have an identity document in order to write their exams. It shouldn’t be too hard to take this a step further.


Registering young people, persuading them to vote, needs to be all of our business. Engaging them in democratic debate, in serious discussion of new solutions, needs to be our business too.


But while we wait for the next generation of ideas, can we please take what we have got seriously? In the EFF, 45 year-olds provide the grey-haired wisdom. Everyone else is younger.


The EFF prioritises young people, and poverty. Doesn’t this give them a common values platform with all of us? Aren’t we all concerned about inequality, about a perception of broken promises of freedom and progress?


Let us engage the EFF in imaginative, innovative debate, encouraging the ideas that they have that are serious, by listening to them. Let’s not take the cheap route of contempt, mockery and fear. Let us enmesh them in the processes of deep democracy: respect, give-and-take, openness to criticism and modification of your own ideas. Not just the form of democracy, but its substance.


The substance of democracy is not a designer suit. So let’s smile and give a thumbs-up when we see the red overalls.


Dr Gillian Godsell teaches at the Wits School of Governance