By Tebogo Mogoru
On 8 May 2019, South Africans eligible to vote participated in the country’s sixth democratic elections since the dawn of democracy 25 years ago. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), 66.05% of registered voters turned up at the polls. The right to elect a democratic government is what many of our people fought for; many suffered and others were killed in the pursuit of this universal right of suffrage. The build-up to an Election Day entailed intense campaigning from various political parties, urging every South African who is at least 18 years and older, to register to vote. This is a performance of a civic duty, which forebears of the African majority were historically denied; and this in itself presents a civic responsibility compelling one to oblige, but an individual in a democracy may choose not to. The representative nature of a democratic process, where citizens elect a government entails those citizens choosing a political party that represents their aspirations and hopes for the country. In the South African multi-party context, these political parties disseminate what are to be their published declarations of intent and motives of an immediate future (five years) they envision for the citizens of this country through their manifestos.
The previous general elections have seen the elongation of the national ballot, which signals a proliferation of political players in the electoral process in relation to party choice, regardless of the spread and short-term paralysis of choice which manifests. What implications are there for a voter who makes a choice regarding individuals or a political party that is deserving of their vote from reading their manifesto, if at all? Is it expected that citizens would go over the 48 manifestos, or they would employ strategic means of ‘‘eating up this elephant? One often wonders just how much the reality of unemployment, poverty and inequality influence the electoral preferences of the people, if they do at all. I, for one, employed strategic means in deciding where my vote went, and this strategy was informed by the little knowledge I have of the electoral system, as well as the acknowledgement of the fundamental fact that elections are concluded numerically, if the terms “majority” and “minority” are to be quantified.
The IEC released the preliminary election results on 11 May 2019, which were declared free and fair, with slight hiccups here and there during the proceedings. The numbers stood at 10 million for the ruling party (African National Congress [ANC]), just over 3.5 million for the Democratic Alliance (DA), and a little over 1.8 million for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Given the proportionate nature of representation, this means a party needs about 45 000 votes to be allocated a seat in the National Assembly, the threshold being35 000 for smaller parties competing for only a seat in the Provincial Legislature. Failure by smaller parties to reach this threshold implies that the votes cast for such parties can be equated to wasted votes, as they will be allocated no seats in the National Assembly and Provincial Legislature. I may not know about other voters, but as an individual my take was that the long list was in an ordinal sense, reduced to three political parties, and after this mental exercise I was convinced that that in order to make my vote count none of the smaller parties were deserving of my vote.
Campaigns by the three main parties (the ANC, the DA and the ANC) were indeed a spectacle, but elections were not as contested as asserted, except provincially, in Gauteng and the Western Cape respectively. In total, 48 parties participated in the elections, with a few newcomers – a record for the books. Out of the 48 contesting parties, with their manifestos, each party sought to outdo the other. However, only 14 parties managed to secure seats in parliament, with the ANC still having the majority of seats (230), for the 6th time. This instalment was a reflection that race, ethnicity and historical allegiance continue to be the main drivers of voting patterns in South Africa. For instance, the DA, which has attempted to create a narrative of being a liberal party for all, lost some of its white voting base to the Freedom Front Plus in the process. On the other hand, younger black voters who are disillusioned with the ANC voted for the EFF, but essentially, the majority of black people still voted for the ANC, on the basis of its history as a liberation movement, and the promise it has made to change people’s lives. In KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), the collapse of the National Freedom Party (NFP) has given back life to the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and its nationalist Zulu base. In essence, historical legacies, racial and ethnic identities continue to inform voting choices for many South Africans over and above claims and promises in the manifestos. In this regard, while the proliferation of political players in the national ballot is a positive indicator of an open political system, the actual strategic election campaigning would be on the contrary, because the majority who cast their votes for these parties merely ‘‘wasted their votes’’, as many of these parties cannot even make the threshold to secure a seat in the National Assembly. The next instalment will interrogate youth participation in the electoral process and explore some of the claims made regarding the role of information technology in attracting younger voters, but also to alleviate some of the logistical challenges encountered in the recent 2019 general election.
Congratulations to the ANC for securing the new mandate, and to Comrade Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa as the incoming President of the Republic.