Democracy is dead, long live democracy

This past Saturday, my little family and I went to Den Haag to vote in the 2024 South African National Election. An experience that has stayed with me all week, eventually morphing into this post.

We arrived at the embassy at 11:00, expecting to be there no more than two hours. Truthfully, we really weren’t prepared for what awaited us.

A common joke (read truthism) among expats is that it’s incredibly easy to identify a South African embassy as it’s generally the only embassy with burglar bars, uncut grass and a queue outside. Walking through the doors of a South African embassy is like walking through a portal linked directly to The Department of Home Affairs in Bellville. It's quite a surreal experience actually.

The queue on Saturday was something else. It wrapped around several blocks. People travelled up to three, four hours and queued, in the sun, for up to nine hours to make their mark. I know my people are resilient, but the vibe, spirit and determination we saw in Den Haag on Saturday — I wasn’t quite ready.


Back in 2019 we voted in Dublin with some friends, it was fairly quick. If I recall correctly all four of us were in and out within 30~45 minutes.


[Sidebar] This post might take a slight negative turn, but it’ll balance out. We love South Africa, our situation can best be described as “accidental expats” and we don’t have much time, patience or energy for people who manages to only speak negatively about the country we call home. I’m also not affiliated with any political party. There is honestly no party within the current South African political line-up that excites me.


This time round, we had our two and a half year old son with us. Upon arrival my spirits instantly sunk as my husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. Trying to figure out how we are going to entertain the little guy for the day. Luckily, people queueing were very quick to send us to the front. Pregnant woman, people with kids under six years of age and disabled people received priority, resulting in us voting within 30 minutes of arrival. Somewhat overwhelmed by our good fortune and (what might sound incredibly cliché, but it’s the only way I have to put this into words) the spirit of ubuntu unexpectedly washing over us like a tidal wave — we started asking ourselves what can we do?

By now the sun was getting high, so we went on the hunt for lunch and decided to pick up water for folks who still had a very long day ahead of them in the queue — an opportunity for us to share in the camaraderie and hopefully provide some encouragement in the process.

After lunch we walked to the grocery store, loaded a couple of 12-packs into the stroller and headed back to the embassy. A small, irrelevant gesture, but when we get to Sunday morning you will see why I included this part.

Here’s some (paraphrased) snippets of what was heard as we walked along the never ending line of voters and comments coming through on the South Africans in The Netherlands Facebook Group.


“Guys, the queue is long, the queues were long in 1994 — we’re sticking it out.”


“Let’s be honest, we all need the tan anyway.”


“The queues are kak long, but the vibe is strong. Wear a hat.”




Word on the street is that voting wrapped (in the dark, to give people a taste of home?) just before midnight. The local Albert Heijn made a killing and sold out of beer and snacks. The Dutch police lauded the entire crowd for its diversity, patience and gezelligheid. Kudos to the (under-resourced, but incredible) volunteers, who remained friendly and helpful.

Here’s the baffling part. The embassy knew in advance that close to 7000 people had registered to vote. There were two porta-potties, 6-9 voting booths and 1-2 people scanning IDs. Once you’ve reached the promised land voting tent, it took about 8 minutes (depending on several factors) from start to finish. I’m estimating that at best (once everything was running smoothly) we were going at a rate of 100-120 votes per hour? (The mission in London was processing up to 800 votes per hour, with two voting days and extended hours.) By 22:00, some people, after having queued for hours, had to dash to catch a train home (with a squeaky clean thumb).

The South African authorities have never been good at math, but make it make sense.

I’ve heard South Africa being credited as one of the few African countries that facilitate voting abroad. Though I appreciate the effort, let’s hold the praise for a minute. The entire United Kingdom has one voting location, London. Australia, same thing. If you live in Perth your only option is to vote nearly 4000kms away in Canberra. In the United States your options are Washington D.C, New York and Los Angeles. Look a little closer and it starts to look a whole lot more like a sophisticated form of voter suppression.

Even more so when you start looking at the numbers. In 2019, London (the largest voting station both inside and outside of South Africa) had ~11 000 voters. This year they had ~24 000. Other popular expat destinations, like The Netherlands, saw an equal to or greater than increase. What are those numbers going to look like by 2029? Who does the diaspora vote for? What impact does the long wait have on voter turnout? How many people turned away on Saturday due to the inefficiency?

There is no reason why we can’t have postal ballots for citizens living in first-world countries.

Remember those two porta-potties? Locals residing along the queue-route started opening their homes to the South Africans in the queue. One “tannie” living along the queue-route put a sign on her door saying “If you really need a W.C. — ring the bell.” (Seriously, in a world filled with greedy politicians and people falling down rabbit holes on their phones, be this tannie.)

Fundraisers have been started online to send these kind souls something to express our gratitude as a community and I don’t think these Dutchies are quite ready for the massive pile of gratitude (read flowers, wine and melktert) that’s going to land on their doorstep in the coming weeks.

On Sunday morning I needed to make a quick grocery run and asked my son if he wanted to come along, without blinking he replied: “To get more water? I want to get more water for the people.” I’m pretty sure it was in that moment that my mind shifted from the day before, to the days ahead. Because that’s where it is at. The next generation.

The fight for every citizen to have access to a safe, secure and stable environment, where their basic physiological needs can be met — that fight is just beginning. The fight was never against each other, it has always been against man-made problems and a cruel, corrupt and chaotic government. The best (and most extreme and polarising) politicians play a long term game. They are several steps ahead and good at disrupting and hijacking the conversation in such a manner that it keeps the electorate distracted.

2029 is around the corner. Get busy, because we’re going to have to Stacey Abrahams the shit out of this thing. If you are in South Africa, go and vote on the 29th. Seriously, people waited up to nine hours, some voted close to midnight and still travelled several hours home. You can get into your airconditioned car, make the five minute trek to your closest primary school, pick up a pen and draw an X.

Feel like you can and want to do more, but unsure where to start? Support local, trustworthy news sources and throw any additional resources you have, whether it be time or money or both, towards education. In the words of Will McAvoy: “Nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed [and well educated] electorate”. We support commongood.org.za and dailymaverick.co.za, but more often than not the opportunities to get involved are much closer to home. Start where you are, use what you have.

I plan on educating myself around the IEC (the, severely underfunded, Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa), figuring out the best way to get involved in a citizen capacity and advocating for a more inclusive voting system abroad.

At this point, if you want to bet against South Africa, I can’t really make a solid counterargument, but (as many a rugby team and ultra-marathoner have learnt) don’t ever underestimate her people.