South Africans withstood low temperatures in some parts of the country to join queues to cast their votes in South Africa’s fourth democratic elections on 22 April 2009. For many, the long queues at many of the approximately 19 000 polling stations brought back memories of 1994 when they participated in the country’s first democratic elections.
Unlike the 1999 and 2004 elections which were characterised by voter apathy, 2009 will be remembered for the interest and participation of young South Africans in both rural and urban areas.
Their participation in this year’s elections reflects the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) report which showed the voter’s roll grew from 20.6 million in the 2004 to just over 23 million voters in 2009 – exceeding the target of 22 million which the IEC had set itself for the 2009 elections. Of the 1 505 642 new registrations, 78 percent were from people under the age of 30, according to IEC chairperson, Brigalia Bam.
While I have not come across any research that explains the greater interest of young people in this years’ elections, I used the opportunity of standing in the voting queue last week to talk to a few of them.
According to a group of six young men and women at the polling station where I voted, their concerns over the state of education, poverty and other social problems were what drove them to vote - so that they could “elect their preferred government”. They say they want a government that will work to make sure that education is accessible and affordable, especially to the historically-disadvantaged. One of them said she wants a government which is led by competent people at the national, provincial and local spheres. Interestingly, another young voter said she “will only decide who to vote for” when she had the ballot paper in her hand.
I also listened to two men in their 40s talking about the importance of voting. They were not impressed with political leaders who come to their communities only during elections time. They argued that service delivery protests are a reflection of leaders’ failure to consult with their electorate.
If democracy is about government by the people for the people, then the people of South Africa have certainly spoken as they mandated the African National Congress (ANC) to lead the country for the next four years by giving them 69.5 percent of the vote, just short of a two-thirds majority.
It is now time for the hard work of turning election promises into reality. The ANC must put in place a capable administration which can utilise the available resources to improve people’s lives. As a start, it needs to ensure that the culture of under spending by departments and that of keeping incompetent leaders in key positions becomes a thing of the past.
Not correcting what was wrong and ignoring what was right about the previous administration, the ANC is at risk of losing supporters to other political parties. I believe that the voter turnout of 77 percent is not only an indication that South African citizens want to participate in the elections, but also that they want to be part of change.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE) performed well. The former will be sending 67 representatives to the National Assembly, whereas the latter will be sending 30.
The establishment of COPE I believe, is another factor in the country’s changing political landscape. Not able to benefit from funding from the R88 million that the IEC distributed to political parties that are currently represented in the National Assembly, COPE nevertheless managed to secure more than one million votes. Of the R88 million that the IEC distributed to parties, R61 million went to the ANC, R10.5 million to the DA and R5.4 million to the Inkatha Freedom Party.
Generally opposition parties did not do well in this election. This is a worrying factor in a country that seeks to promote multiparty democracy. Already, some political parties are talking about the possibility of forming one strong opposition party that can take on the ANC in the 2014 polls. If the formation of such a party becomes a reality, I have no doubt that there would be a major shift in our politics.
This idea seems to be supported by among others, UDM president, Bantu Holomisa, who was recently quoted by the media as saying that if there is nothing fishy about the results, then voters are rejecting the multiparty system of democracy. Holomisa said that maybe voters favour of a two-party system.
DA leader Helen Zille, also indicated that her party is looking at forming a “one big power” to challenge the next elections. Zille, whose party secured 16.6 percent of the national votes, says that a single opposition party like this will help to restructure politics in the country.
Perhaps this is the only way to save political parties such as the Pan Africanist Congress, Independent Democrats, Azanian People’s Organisation, and the African People’s Convention, which are struggling to remain relevant to their supporters.
While the elections were declared free and fair by both the African Union (AU) and the South African Development Community (SADC) observer missions, I think the biggest lesson for the IEC and the political parties is ensure that the Electoral Act is not violated in any national or local elections.
SADC observer mission leader, Balefi Tsie, pointed out that the elections were conducted in compliance with guidelines adopted by all SADC countries. However, Tsie raised concerns about campaigning material which was still visible and paraded around on the polling day.
No matter how many seats the political parties have secured in the National Assembly, South Africans expect them to send representatives who are interested in improving service delivery and contributing to good governance.
I am looking forward to the next four years. We have democratically elected the new administration. Like the majority of South Africans, I expect the government to fulfill the promises they have made and to create ‘a better life for all’. I want to live in a country in which people have employment, access to quality health care and education and feel safe.
In conclusion, I am looking forward to the next four years. We have democratically elected the new administration. Like many South Africans and people in other countries, I expect this government to consult with the electorate on the issues that affect them, to immediately work towards eradicating poverty and initiate programmes that result in the improvement of the conditions of millions who are marginalised. They must improve access to health care, improve the education system and invest in the rights or citizens.
The people have spoken.