South Africans have a reason to celebrate – free & fair elections

South Africa - Pretoria - 08 May 2019 - City of Tshwane residents have gathered outside the City Hall to cast their vote during the National and Provincial elections. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency(ANA)

To cast a vote, in a free and fair election, is in today’s world a privilege, and a right, because too often things go wrong. As a nation we can truly celebrate the right to cast a vote, for several reasons.

According to Freedom House, the percentage of non-free populations by regions of the world, from lowest to highest, are: Americas = 5%; Europe = 13%; Sub-Saharan Africa = 39%; Asia-Pacific = 40%; Eurasia = 80%; Middle East & North Africa = 83%. This means that South African citizens can be proud to participate in a democratic process, as established 25 years ago, when South Africans went to the polls for the first time in history. An X on the ballot paper, is the mark of endorsing South Africa’s status as one of the world’s free societies and most transparent state systems. This can never be taken for granted.

As we reflect not only on the right, and privilege to be counted among the world’s ‘free people’ that live in a democratic and open society, it is also possible to say that when a citizen casts a vote on the ballot paper, is much more than just choosing a political party but leaving a legacy for the next generations to come.

Brand South Africa’s country brand Performance monitoring finds that the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report (2018) ranks South Africa as 27th out of 140 countries for budget transparency. The Open Budget Index, ranks South Africa 2nd in 115 nations for transparency. The latter is a reflection of the constitutional foundation of our democracy, as a free, participatory, and accountable democratic state. This means that South Africa outperforms some of the world’s so-called ‘advanced nations’ in terms of openness, transparency, and public accountability. This outperforms countries such as New Zealand, Sweden and Norway.

As a country with a relatively short history of democracy, it is also significant that, according to the Ibrahim Index of Africa Governance (IIAG), South Africa is ranked first out of fifty-four nations for – Representation of women in the judiciary, Protection against religious and ethnic discrimination, as well as Capacity for election monitoring agencies. This means that the X truly marks the spot of a democracy that is capable, transparent, and with the necessary institutional strength to sustain and deepen democracy.

It is under this Constitution, particularly its Bill of Rights, that people like Mama Albertina Sisulu, Chief Bambatha, and many other unsung heroes and heroines of this country’s struggle for liberation. They voiced their objection to sub-human treatment under Apartheid, today would have enjoyed their right to dignity and to life.

Today all South Africans, from workers to students, worshippers and even prisoners, enjoy several rights such as their entitlement to vote, to join a labour union, or worship according to their spiritual inclination and even remain silent when they are accused of a crime.

As we celebrate many achievements in the past twenty-five years, it is important to be reminded that the reputation of this country brand, is intricately linked to the democratic credentials, practices, and especially its institutions. To this end the best way to celebrate achievements made thus far is to ensure that the pain of the past can be transformed through democratic participation. This puts tremendous responsibility in our hands as citizens to play our part in a positive way, seeing that our actions and decisions, impact on the reputation of the country brand.

As we move to the next phase of 25 years of democracy interestingly, and in stark contrast to where we come from as a nation, Brand South Africa asks respondents in its annual national domestic perceptions study, to select attributes that best describe their identity. The following terms come up as self-descriptors: ‘I am a South African’ (59%); ‘I am an African’ (59%); I’m a unique being (55%); and I do not discriminate (51%). The important factor in these self-descriptors is not only the percentage of the population identifying themselves as such, it is the type of description. This means that South Africans see themselves strongly as African- and South African.

If there is anything to aspire to,  that will definitely enhance the reputation of this Nation Brand as a true democracy it is to enhance our African identity, to enable citizens to live- and express themselves in all possible ways. That is why the X also marks the spot where South Africans continue to inspire new ways.

Thulisile Manzini is the Acting CEO of Brand South Africa.