Even on voting day, all you need is love

Beth Cooper Howell
Beth Cooper Howell

In the months leading up to voting day, there’s been no love lost between rivals in the mud-slung pit of politics, where polite debate quickly degenerates into name-calls and tattle-tales. I find it difficult to take seriously any party wanna-be who chooses low blows over intelligent conversation.

I work with a woman who volunteers as an election educator – someone who informs people about how democracy works, what a vote is and debunks myths and scare tactics surrounding the process. It was she who brought up love – or rather, the lack of it – during the lead-up to today.

For a couple of peaceful years between elections, neighbours and colleagues in her area are perfectly comfortable with being in each other’s space. They go about their business in the community, remembering only vaguely that Mrs Y votes for an opposition party, while Mr P supports the ruling one.

They swap birthday presents, news, sometimes even a round of beer down the pub and generally get on with going about their business. Come election time, though, says Val, it’s an entirely different story.

As their party bosses begin the well-oiled process of verbally attacking each other, whipping their voting base into a frenzy of dissent, so the negativity filters down into the streets, where things get ugly and no more ‘love thy neighbour’, she says.

In fact, putting on her chosen party colours in the morning is an act of courage – even defiance – because she knows that within minutes of stepping into the taxi taking her to work, she’s going to have to ignore, retaliate against, engage with, brush off or side swipe whoever takes umbrage to her wearing, say, party peach, rather than ‘other party’ purple.

Val is used to this. It’s the voting vibe, she says. But then, last week, something extraordinary happened.

“I was in my colours, you know – the t-shirt, doekie, even the matching shoes – and this guy, from the other side, he asks how I can sleep at night, wearing those colours and voting for those people.

“He says he can get me clothes in the ‘right’ colours and he tells everybody there at the shop, and people stop to look, because they think that I’m going to fight, because you know me, mos, I don’t keep quiet.

“But I keep my cool. I don’t want trouble, because he’s a big oke – new here, we don’t know him so well – and I just smile and start explaining that these are my colours and this is my right, just as his colours are his right to wear and he can put his ‘x’ wherever he chooses to put it.

“And then his friend – same colours as him, so my sworn enemy, you know? – starts laughing. He laughs so hard at his friend, who is giving me a hard time. He tells the man, ‘listen, boetie, you talk about this like it’s fashion. Leave her alone – she likes that colour, she wants to be there, and so what? You don’t know this woman from a bar of soap, but you jump down her throat in front of everybody, even though nobody pays you to do it.’”

Val said both men walked away then, but not before her aggressor had dipped his cap at her (“just like the old folks used to do back then, when we had manners”) and smiled.

As they made their way down the street, Val’s rescuer turned around again and shouted to her: “It’s just a game, vroutjie. All we need is love. Love is all we need!”

You will read this today either after casting your election vote, or before popping down to a polling booth . Possibly, you might be a foreigner or exercising your right to abstain from democracy.

Whatever your circumstances, at some point between getting up and going to sleep, you will encounter love. It may seek you out, be hard to find, or surround you generously during every waking moment, but it’s there.

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