By Emmanuel Dizwani

Democracy is defined as a system of government in which power is vested in the people, who rule either directly or through freely elected representatives. It is a word that we hear thrown around a lot, in many a different context. For me – I recently came face to face with what I believe to be its true meaning.

I am born in a country called Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. It is  characterized by wonderful, hard-working and friendly people, beautiful and fertile land, magnificent wildlife and an ideal climate. Unfortunately, as is the case in many African nations, it is also experiencing a political and economic crisis.

There’s an African proverb: “When the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.” So often in the game of politics, as parties battle each other for power, it is the innocent masses that suffer. Often Democracy is subverted, voter’s rolls are manipulated, intimidation of voters is rife and the ballot count is rigged. I remain hopeful that my beloved birth country finds peace in the near future and with it the prosperity and freedom that will doubtlessly follow. The patterns of history weave in its favor.

I moved to Canada to be with my Canadian wife in 2010. Last year, in the spring of 2015, I became a Canadian citizen and was eligible to vote for the first time. My experience of voting until then had been shrouded in doubts and knowing that my selection would probably not even count. But in the fall of 2015, I saw for the first time an example of what can happen when the rule of law exists and where the elected officials are there to primarily serve the public and are held to account by the Citizenry.

Certainly my experience in Brockville will not necessarily reflect the experience of every voter throughout Canada, especially perhaps in cities much larger than Brockville, where the voting experience may differ. But there will certainly be parallels – foremost of which will be that people will cast their vote without fear and with the knowledge that it will count. That is the greatest victory of democracy. That is the truest expression of freedom.

A voter card was mailed to me informing me where I could go to cast my vote (impressive!). I arrived at the polling station on Vote Day, where there were just two people ahead of me waiting to vote, which in itself was surreal and a far cry from the queue of hundreds of voters that I was accustomed to. In my previous voting experiences, I would expect to spend most of the day in a voting queue. When it came to my turn, an elderly lady with a beautiful and welcoming smile gestured for me to come to the table. I handed over my ID and voter card and my name was located on the voter’s roll, I was given a ballot and went into the voter’s booth and made my selection. I remember a feeling of apprehension that I didn’t quite understand but that I know to be linked to the enormity and magnitude of the moment. Perhaps partly due to an awareness of the fact that for the first time in my life, I was confident that this vote would count.

Then a moment of slight confusion – partly due to the fact that I wasn’t certain of the exact procedure and what should  happen next, and partly because I was also undergoing a weird sort of out-of-body experience where I felt like I was not the one participating, but was just an outside observer of the entire experience: I walked back out with my  ballot and went to walk past the registration table, (with ballot still in hand!) and was urgently called back because the ballot box where I  needed to drop my ballot was on that table! So anyway, with my ballot safely in the box, I then walked out with a rueful smile, thinking that if she hadn’t stopped me, I would have probably walked out and driven home with my ballot! Now that would have been a waste of the voting experience, eh?!!

I reflected that on that one day, every four years, the Citizenry wielded tremendous power, and with the stroke of a pen could instigate profound change and determine for themselves the government and future of their choosing. What a powerful and wonderful gift! I wondered if most of my fellow voters were as aware of the profoundness and awe of this moment, where power changed hands without the firing of a single bullet – without doubt or fear or intimidation. Or perhaps you first have to be denied that gift, like so many people in fractured nations around the Globe, in order to see its true value? A free and fair election is an event that is too rare even in our modern world.

I am a Citizen of two countries. Both of which I love and am fiercely proud. The Zimbabwean part of me yearns for a day that all people, not just in my country of birth, but wherever they are in the world, can vote freely and choose a collective destiny of their own making. I cannot wait for that day. Through this experience of voting for the first time in Canada, I have seen what is possible. As I watched the results come in late into the night, I sat in awe at the people’s will being expressed in dramatic fashion. This whole experience reached its peak a few days later as I sat in front of the television and saw one Prime Minister resign his position gracefully and another get sworn in, all without a single riot or a single bullet being fired.

Bravo Canada. This was awesome and inspiring. We truly do live up to our creed of being the “True North – strong and free.” A fine example of Democracy at work – And I was privileged to see it first-hand.

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