My fellow South Africans, after 22 years of freedom and democracy, we stand on the brink of another historic election. We can all take great pride in the fact that democracy is now part of the very rhythm of life here in South Africa, and as we go to the polls to exercise our sacred right to vote, we shouldn’t take that for granted.
When we walk into that voting booth we are wielding real power – the power to choose the men and women who govern this country. And when we exercise that power we need to do so with real integrity and consideration, and not just vote in a knee-jerk fashion by affiliating with a particular party because that’s how we have always voted.
We need to give real thought to how we intend to cast this vote. For guidance on the criteria for how to vote, beyond the campaign slogans and political point-scoring, we need look no further than the Bible for it. In the Book of Exodus, we read that when Moses appointed leaders in the desert – on the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro – there were four criteria by which he chose those leaders. And we can apply those exact four criteria mentioned in the Bible when we cast our vote.
The first of these criteria was that the leaders should be “people of ability”; people who can really get the job done. The job of ensuring our cities and towns are governed properly is very challenging. It requires people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to deliver public services efficiently and effectively.
The second criterion is that they should be “people who fear G-d”. In other words, people who feel accountable for their actions; who are aware of the consequences of what they do, and act accordingly. Such people act with real integrity – they do the right thing not just because they are afraid of getting caught, but because it’s the right thing and they know that one day they will have to answer for their lives before G-d.
Furthermore, “people who fear G-d” are people of compassion. The Talmud teaches us that G-d is defined by His compassion; if we truly fear G-d, we should strive to follow his example and emulate that compassion.
“People of truth” is the third criterion. Great leaders are real and honest, and would never tell a lie. They are people of integrity who do the right thing for its own sake. And they certainly wouldn’t lie or hide the truth in order to win votes.
And, finally, great leaders should be “people who hate unfair gain”. Note the strong language the Bible uses: not only do they refuse to benefit from ill-gotten gain and corruption – they actually hate it.
These are the criteria by which we should exercise our vote. And so, my fellow South Africans, when we walk into the voting booths come Election Day, let us be acutely aware of the enormous power that’s in our hands when we cast that vote. And let us vote for people who measure up to the criteria of the Bible.
We need leaders who are people of ability, integrity and moral strength, who despise unfair gain and corruption.
If we elect people like that, we will continue to build a great country together.