A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the issue of voting rights for citizens living abroad. Most countries do give citizens abroad a vote, but a small handful of countries are not willing to give a voice to citizens who live outside of the country. My own birth country, South Africa, is among those few. However, South Africa recently took a turn on this policy, and opened up the prospect of letting me and my family (in California) vote in the elections this year. The Pretoria High Court reportedly ruled on February 9 that citizens living overseas should be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections, which will most likely lead to a postponement of the election date so that appropriate laws can be passed by the Constitutional Court to instate the new rule.
I was quite excited about this new development. For quite some time, I have felt somewhat unsettled about not being able to voice my opinion in an election – either in my birth country or my current country. I haven’t been old enough to vote in an election in South Africa, and in the upcoming election I had previously assumed that I would not be allowed to. And now I may have the chance. Yet I feel somewhat hesitant to cast a ballot for a president who isn’t really going to be my president. This is where I hit a small snag in my excitement. I realized that it doesn’t make sense for me to vote in an election that a) I know very little about because I’m not receiving media coverage every day and b) the change in administration will not directly affect my everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that if citizens are given the right to vote, then they should take advantage of that opportunity regardless of how inconvenient it is to actually pay attention to the issues and fill out a ballot. But I am not completely convinced that I should vote for changes in a country that I do not intend to ever live in again.
Much of my vacillation in this situation stems from the likelihood of a major shifts in the administrative majority should votes be opened up to the South Africans living abroad. Newsweek and the Economist have addressed the issue of the ‘white flight’ that is contributing to South Africa’s brain drain. The fact is that a vast majority of the South African citizens abroad are white and, consequently or not, disinclined to vote for the ANC, which, let’s face it, has seriously gone downhill since Nelson Mandela left office. Now, in my opinion, a drastic departure from the current administration would be a wonderful thing, but my biggest question is, do I, and the rest of the citizens abroad, have the right to make that decision for the South Africans who actually will be feeling the changes in their every day lives? I feel that the change would be good, but if it’s not what they want, then should I still push for it? I know that as an international community we all have the responsibility to look out for one another, but the truth is that I would find it unfair if someone living in South Africa voted to change things in the country that I live in. So which is right? Vote for what I believe is best for a country that really isn’t mine anymore? Or sit back and let South Africans decide for themselves, even if I think they’re going the wrong way?
Check out the news network link to the Newsweek article on South Africa’s “white flight”: http://www.care2.com/news/member/193692282/1050540