I am dictating this article on Freedom Day 2019. It is 25 years since my mother-to-be was born, a freedom baby. My due date is May 8th 2019, Election Day. I am likely to come into the world as you are voting. How are you going to vote? Will you vote? Will you think of me?

I won’t have a vote. Nor will about 20 million children in South Africa. I wonder how much you have thought about us as you think about your vote? Because your choice plays a part in determining our future, you should, I think.

I know that it is not so easy to choose how to vote in 2019. I feel my mother’s stress hormones every time she thinks about it. This is on top of the other stresses she feels from money and food worries, violence etc.. We depend quite a bit on government grants and free services to get by. In that way we are not exceptional: more than 60% of South Africa’s children live in very poor households. I feel stressed too.

Vote for me! Vote for us! Not-so-easy, you say. I agree. Let’s think about it.

Not to vote is a cop out: a negative statement of the heart, not a thoughtful action. It won’t help me to grow up in a better environment than my mother did. Don’t abandon hope.

Spoil your vote? Perhaps in a local election as a protest where all the candidates are disasters, but to do it in the national election would be the equivalent of not voting.

Tactical or specific vote? I see these as equivalent (just because I am small, don’t assume that I cannot think). So the next question is ‘heart or head?’. I think you know how I think – it’s heads every time. An emotional vote will increase the chances that either the extremists or the old guard will increase their power – to be avoided! An emotion-led vote is also more likely to be a selfish use of your vote: ‘me and mine’ before ‘country and community’. Even if you are emotional about the difficult lives that so many of South Africa’s children live, you need to turn that into a thoughtful voting response. No cross crosses on Election Day, please!

So let’s think together. How much is your vote for you, and how much is it for others? As a future citizen of South Africa, I urge you to consider the future of all children in South Africa above yourself – and not only your own children, if you are in the minority of well-off South Africans. The median income of South African households is about R1 200 per person per month. Are you in the 50% of people who are below or above this line? Most children are below this line. Look across the line and think.

What would a vote with children (the voteless) in mind look like? It would be one that would increase the likelihood that our best interests would be served. That from conception through infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood our physical and emotional development, our resilience, our education, our health and our opportunities (including the disabled among us) would be given the best chances. So very many of us are losing out on these things in 2019. Vote for change. Even, change your vote!

So what would need to change? We need a much less unequal society. There are millions of have-nots who have almost nothing, like my mother. For almost all of us, this is not our fault. Not to vote with this in mind is to recklessly wreck millions of children’s futures – and wreck the country as this situation is a breeding ground for dangerous demagogues and communal violence.

Apart from being an effect of our history, 25 years of crazy levels of inequality (a lot of it led by unemployment) relate to greed and its first cousin, selfishness. Too many ‘haves’ have and hold. Economic growth, even if we had it would not be enough to overcome gross inequality on its own. More must be shared. I don’t think that most ‘haves’ see their having as greed. If you don’t believe that it is, ask the planet (but more of that later). Let’s call it ‘unintended selfishness’, being generous but firm.

Greed also results in persistent inequality via corruption: those who steal and cheat and those who encourage them to do so and benefit thereby. The huge economic toll of grand graft leaves insufficient resources for our many pro-poor policies, including those that could increase youth employment.

That brings me to poor governance. What is the use of progressive laws and policies if, through corruption, weakness and incompetence, their fruits are never tasted? Economic growth, employment prospects and greater equity are strangled at birth. My birth! You might as well strangle me.

(I continue to dictate from the safety of the womb.)

What else needs to change? Almost every aspect of the environment I am to be born into! Pervasive violence and abuse. Only policing it better (I hear a lot about this in election discussions from inside here) will not get at the root causes. Inequality and broken communities need fixing. Who is talking about community mental health interventions? They are not in any party manifesto. It is the same for drugs (including alcohol and nicotine) in my future environment. My mother doesn’t drink or smoke. She doesn’t let anyone who smokes get near me. Thank you, mama! And here we find greed again – tobacco companies and drug barons, for example.

Passing over air pollution, plastic waste and chemical toxins (I wish I could – they are everywhere), I move to a change that will blight my life if it itself is not changed – climate change. My future and that of South Africa’s children is bleak indeed if you don’t vote for change, and change yourself. I’m talking to you ‘haves’ mainly: what you have is unaffordable.

So inequality, unemployment, greed and selfishness, poor governance, our environments and climate change. All needing change if children are to thrive in South Africa. Where will you put your cross?

In choosing a party or a person (even if you vote for another to get what you want i.e. tactical voting), what do I suggest that you look for?

Honest and people-centred leadership (no demagogues in there – that narrows the field!), track record and the spirit of the party or personal manifesto. The manifesto-writing can be clichéd, derivative and trite (unlike my dictation, I hope), but there may be vital positives and negative pointers in them, so have a look – sometimes between the lines. All three of these are unlikely to be found in any one party or candidate, so weigh up the pros and cons of these three essential considerations for your vote.

Mr Smiley’s party manifesto says many things that are good for children and has done many good things for us while in government. They have signally failed on the good governance front in recent times allowing grand theft from the young and our futures, as well as huge slippage through incompetence and greed at municipal level. And Basic Education? Do you think Mr Smiley’s team can change tack and call its troops to order?

One party took the EFFrontery of poverty and inequality and turned it into a form of politics whose radical EFFrontery would have us join Zimbabwe with an economy unable to get off its knees, if their manifesto and shouting is their true intention as a party in government. They say they will give me and all children a tablet to use when I go to school, and many things like that. Mama is thinking of voting for them. Think, mama. Vote for me!

What about the da DA? I like their children-specific claims and aims – first thousand days, early childhood development, education (also found in Mr Smiley’s manifesto) – but I really hesitate at their reactionary health policies. Not child-friendly. Nice energy and climate friendly policies, Mr M. But I worry about your big business links. Is tackling inequality really in your sights. Will your partners (predominantly ‘haves who want to hold’) give you the leeway to improve living wage employment? Better marks for governance (but blotted your copybook with your silly wranglings in the Cape). I might suggest that people give you a thought for local government and be tactical for national.

I can’t give space to all regional, sectional, personality-driven and weirdo parties. (It is nearly time for my sleep). Avoid the religious ones. Mainly use these smaller parties for tactical votes, unless the candidate is a great soul. If you want a flutter and really care about climate change and children and you live in the Western Cape (where they are on the list), you might give the Green Party a nod. Their policies are even more radical than the EFF’s – radicalism is required in this arena. Your votes are meaningless if, by 2030, we all are headed for environmental catastrophe anyway. You can ‘vote for me’ by being decisively green whoever you vote for. Out with coal before I turn 11! Nice to see this sentiment in other manifestos – carbon-free is becoming mainstream in thought. Now for action, those who win on Election Day!

So, please vote on my birthday. A thinking vote. A vote for my future and the future of all South Africa’s 20 million children.

Thanks for reading my manifesto from the womb.

Vote for me! Thank you!

See you soon.