Two days ago, on 3o April, I woke up feeling like a child on Christmas Day. Obviously it wasn’t Christmas, nor was it my birthday or anniversary, rather it was Election Day for South Africans scattered across the globe, who finally after 20 years of democracy were getting their chance to have their say about the governance of our country.
I first voted in the 2004 Presidential Elections and despite the fact that many people I knew at the time didn’t bother to make their mark, thinking that their vote doesn’t mean much, I was adamant that I had to vote! Again in 2009, I was happy to take the time to exercise my right.
Then in 2010 I decided to go travelling for a year to South America to learn Spanish and explore the Latin American way of life. My one year plan has now turned into 4 years and I have happily established a life and career here in Santiago, Chile.
Last year Chile held Presidential elections and since I have come to understand just a little bit of the Chilean political system, I took an interest in the primary elections and the final rounds. Throughout all three rounds of voting, I felt a little sad and nostalgic – as if I didn’t belong anywhere anymore. I have permanent residency in Chile, but I am not yet eligible to vote and at the time, being out of South Africa, I thought I would not be able to vote in the 2014 elections. I was totally unaware of the change in the regulations at the time.
I think only those who have left their home country (for whatever reason), will understand when I say that there is seldom a day that goes by that you don’t think of something or someone back home. And even though you may be very happy in your “adopted” country, be it temporary or permanent, you never stop feeling the connection with home.
Many stories of ex-pats around the world this week proved that even though we are living abroad, our hearts are still very much connected to the Rainbow Nation. Through facebook, I saw stories of people who travelled days by car or spent alot of money on flights to get to a city where voting was taking place. Being a week day, everyone had to take time off work and in some cities such as London, people had to queue for over 2 hours. But everyone made the effort with a smile.
Back to my own story here in Chile. Through facebook (thank you Nicolette Solomon), just a few days before registrations closed in March I saw that we were able to vote overseas. I immediately went onto the website, filled in the VEC10 form and then discovered that my SA passport was not going to be enough to vote and I needed my ID book. Being totally useless outside SA, I had left my ID book back home, so I had to get my mom to DHL it to me (thanks mom!).
Thankfully, unlike many other South Africans, I didn’t have to travel far by plane or car to be able to vote, all I had to do was hop on my bicycle and head to the SA Embassy about 6km from my apartment. I was greeted at the door with smiles and a very warm welcome and shown to where I had to fill in a couple of forms. Chatting with the embassy staff and hearing SA accents for the first time in ages was so nice.
Filling in the Special Vote Request Form
Being ticked off the Voters Roll (56 people registered to vote in Santiago)
Having my ID book and the vote form stamped. For this embassy staff member, I was her first vote of the day and she was very proud to stamp my ID Book. It really was such a festive atmosphere, not only for the voters, but everyone there.
Coming out of the voting room and being told to place my envelope in the green bag!
A bit of a blurry photo, but as you can see I have a HUGE smile on my face!
And obviously afterwards I had to take the obligatory thumb photo:
For those of you unfamiliar with the SA voting system, after casting your vote your thumb gets marked with special UV ink to ensure that no one tried to vote twice. Not the most modern technique, but one that allows us to show off as “Proudly South African” citizens as long as the ink lasts.
Although only 26000 South Africans registered to vote overseas (in part due to a very poor communication campaign), those of us that did, all had to make a special effort in one way or another. So to the millions of eligible voters in SA, I hope you all make the same effort next Wednesday so that we can hopefully change our country for the better.
Your vote does count!!!!!
P.S. Thank you to Rodrigo Ferrada for being my personal photographer and for sharing this experience with me. You know how much it means to me.