My journey into political engagement and volunteering for the election: Paddi Clay - Biznews

May 26, 2024
I have become a widget in the mighty machine that is a party in full campaign mode.
My journey into political engagement and volunteering for the election: Paddi Clay - Biznews

Engaged in the most crucial South African election in 30 years, a former journalist turned political volunteer joins the Democratic Alliance (DA) to counter bias and misinformation. Despite disillusionment with other parties like Rise Mzansi and ActionSA, commitment to liberal values drives involvement. With disdain for political apathy, the volunteer navigates canvassing challenges, advocating for informed citizenship and active participation in shaping the nation’s future.

Paddi Clay

I have become a widget in the mighty machine that is a party in full campaign mode.

The election that’s upon us is the most important election in South Africa in 30 years, as far as I’m concerned. It features an unprecedented number of political parties and, because of the Electoral Reform Act, the first-ever independent candidates for national and provincial seats. It could see the African National Congress drop below 50%.

All this is the reason I recently joined a political party after a 50-year hiatus, and offered myself as a volunteer in the Ward in which I live. Most parties, to my knowledge, will let you help even if you’re not a member, but I wanted to go beyond simply voting by going in, boots and all, as an active participant in this latest democratic battle.

I signed on, paid my R10 fee for the year, received a party T-shirt and was immediately put to work, helping with registration and canvassing potential voters out in public.

Today I’m preparing to be a Voting District Captain, a Party Agent, and a counter in the three days of elections (special voting days plus 29 May) at a voting station close to home.

This should be a perfectly ordinary thing to do in a free democracy. But in my nice well-off suburban circles there is a deep streak of disdain for actual engagement in politics and putting across a contrarian point of view – especially one from a party that has been demonised so consistently in recent years.

While Jeremy Clarkson frequently declares “I am a god” when he manages to do something practical and useful instead of talking or criticising others, I will quietly accept any plaudits that you wish to direct my way for being so brave as to align myself and volunteer my services to an opposition party which is slagged off daily, and variously, as: for whites only/anti-black/ racist/not caring for the poor/only for the the privileged/unable to empathise with ‘the lived experience of the indigenous population of South Africa’ or some other supercilious woke phrase. All these evidence-free labels are dished out with regularity and often venomously, on social media and mainstream media.

Does need to be countered
While this labelling of the Democratic Alliance and any member is “like duck’s water off my back”, as idiom-mangling Judge Erasmus of Info Scandal notoriety reportedly said back in 1978, it does need to be continually and consistently countered.

Some may be taken aback by my going so far as to be a party volunteer. But I assure you, it’s been better than sitting around simply complaining, despairing, or punching holes in the spin, hot air, lies and promises issuing in this election campaign from a huge cast of veteran seat occupiers, deluded and narcissistic men and women on the take and the make, crusaders, and just plain thieves and gangsters.

My choice of party to vote for – on all three ballots – was not difficult. Despite it now being a case of parties, parties everywhere, the DA is still the only one that aligns with most with my liberal and non-racial values. It’s not a perfect fit. Nor is it perfect. No party is or can be because we are all individuals. But it’s the best we have right now. It is also the one that appears the most capable of putting us onto a better path for delivering services and tackling unemployment.

Canvassing has highs and lows. Some days everyone you encounter declares themselves a supporter. Occasionally support comes grudgingly only after their questions have been answered. Sometimes it comes from surprising quarters.

One of the most frustrating aspects is that you must spend a large amount of time overcoming the effect of media bias, misreporting, and deliberate disinformation on voters before getting down to discussing party policy and values.

Conservative politician and journalist, Dan Hannan, writing in in the Washington Examiner on what he regards as the retreat of liberal democracy in the face of authoritarianism, believes smartphones have played a big part in this.

“Made us grumpier”
“Put simply, screens have addled our minds, shortened our attention spans, placed us in political silos, and made us grumpier.”

Hannan goes on: “Screen addiction has made people less interested in nuance, readier to reason backward from their preferred conclusions and more prone to conspiracy theories.

“More words are being written and read than ever before, but we are becoming lazier about applying the filters of plausibility, consistency and common sense. Like our pre-literate and pre-enlightenment ancestors, we have taken to assuming that those who disagree with us are simply bad people.”

Fifty years ago in 1974, while a student and not yet even a voter, I signed up to the Progressive Party and helped canvass Sea Point residents to elect Colin Eglin.  

He was one of the six MPs who joined Helen Suzman in that breakthrough year for the opposition. (My future father-in-law was also among those six, which just goes to show there’s unlikely to be even the fabled Kevin Bacon “Six degrees” between any liberals in South Africa these days.)

Became a journalist
But soon afterwards I became a journalist and my personal absolutist journalism ethics saw me steer clear of membership of any political organisation.

Still, like any good citizen, I voted in every election.

In 1994 my vote went to ensuring the African National Congress did not come to power without a liberal-inclined opposition.

Before signing on as a DA member several weeks ago, I cast my eyes over some of the other parties that regard themselves as better alternatives.

Rise Mzansi’s appearance as a well-funded registered party was a bit of a surprise, I admit. I’d had the impression it would remain nothing more than a talk shop of NGO professionals engaged in endless consultation. For a while I also thought its younger, more educated, cosmopolitan and thinking demographic would escape the confines of the ANC ideology that’s destroying the country. As a former colleague of Songezo Zibi, I thought he would offer something new and different. Not just be it.

But alas, RM is a disappointment. It is too dirigiste, too attached to social justice warrior coat-tails, and, killer point for me, too committed to those very BEE race laws which have led to much of the destruction of our economy.

Admittedly, it has a slate of good-looking leaders who have charmed several disillusioned Ramaphoriacs (and generated a flurry of hagiographic postings on social media) and many media people. But the media has a history of falling hard for new arrivals – such as Agang, Cope, Good and even the UDM, and I have my doubts that RM will secure more than a couple of seats across the country.

Never contenders
Herman Mashaba and his ActionSA were never contenders for my vote. I scratched Mashaba off my dance card when I first heard him speak about Herman Mashaba ad nauseam, shortly after being announced as the DA’s candidate for mayor of Johannesburg.

I was proved prescient by his bizarre fawning over the EFF during his mayorship and his treatment of councillors.

Mmusi Maimane could have done something good for the DA. But he was rapidly carried away by his own self-belief, began making up policy on the fly and was revealed as yet another racial nationalist. Now he is playing victim. It is unseemly for a former leader.

When this month’s voting is over, whatever the results, I know I’ll feel positive about having engaged wholeheartedly in this democratic battle.

It’s unfortunate, though, that all this interacting with voters has left me with little tolerance for those who do not inform themselves about politics, who believe they are helpless, who have given up pushing back at things they do not like or do not believe are good for them, their country, or the world: People who remain passive flotsam on the political seas.

I, on the other hand, have been activated. There’s no stopping me now.

Paddi Clay is an award-winning veteran of radio, print and online journalism

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.

My journey into political engagement and volunteering for the election: Paddi Clay - Biznews

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