Mailbox: IRR’s Sara Gon replies to Lord Peter Hain – Before anyone can vote, people have to be persuaded to register

By Sara Gon* of Institute of Race Relations (IRR)

Dear Editor,

BizNews reported that former UK minister and anti-apartheid campaigner, Lord Peter Hain, gave a lecture recently to commemorate the police murder of anti-apartheid activist Neil Aggett in 1982.

Hain urged South Africans to learn from struggle history – the defeat of apartheid was possible because ordinary citizens ‘rose up together and campaigned, and struggled, and fought for change until eventually they won it.’

Hain urged South Africans to kick out corrupt politicians and refuse to pay bribes. Hain urges us to reclaim the ‘noble mission of Mandela’ et al. His rhetoric is somewhat romantic and naïve in 2023. 

Refusing to pay bribes won’t result in a change in government. People pay bribes just to make their lives marginally more tolerable. However, Hain gives no practical advice as to how to ‘kick out corrupt politicians’.

Read more: Ramaphosa five years in hasn’t dispelled ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’ rap – Sara Gon

Hain glosses over the one real power the citizenry does have – the vote. He says that South Africans tell him they feel helpless, that politics doesn’t serve them anymore, and that their vote is worthless. This is understandable but wrong.

Politics won’t serve people if they continue to vote for the ANC. But their vote is not worthless; it’s very valuable. It is the one opportunity that makes everyone who votes completely equal and our combined votes determine which party governs us. We are more powerful than those who rule.

Every vote counts.

People must vote for parties with pragmatic policies to govern the country into prosperity; ideology is a false guide.

But before anyone can vote, people have to be persuaded to register to vote. The failure to register means that you can’t vote and that means you lose your chance to choose who governs.

The IRR’s #PledgeToVote campaign is aimed at this awareness raising, but there can never be too much conscientising.

Sara Gon, Institute of Race Relations

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*Sara Gon: Head of Strategic Engagement at Institute of Race Relations

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