South Africa gears up for historic seventh national elections

SANF 24 no 9

As South Africa approaches its seventh national elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994, the political landscape is abuzz with activity.

Posters of smiling politicians have been the flavour of the month since campaigning started in March, with all promising a change in fortunes for the country.

With a few days to go before the 29 May polls, all political parties and independent candidates are criss-crossing South Africa as they seek the crucial last-minute endorsement by an electorate spoiled for choice.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), a record number of 115 political parties have registered to contest, reflecting a vibrant and diverse political environment.

The list of political parties makes interesting reading, featuring names such as Able Leadership, Africa Africans Reclaim, African Congress for Transformation, African Content Movement, African Heart Congress, Al Jama-Ah, All Citizens Party, Alliance of Citizens for Change and Build One South Africa with Mmusi Maimane.

Other interesting parties include Citizens, Economic Liberators Forum South Africa, Forum 4 Service Delivery, Northern Cape Communities Movement, Organic Humanity Movement, Sizwe Ummah Nation, South African Royal Kingdoms Organisation and Xiluva.

Besides the mainstream parties such as the governing African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), most of these parties have not fielded many candidates for the national election.

Out of the total of 4,271 candidates fielded by all the parties, the bulk have been fielded by the ANC, DA and EFF as well as Action South Africa, African Transformation Movement and the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania.

For the first time in South African electoral history, independent candidates will stand alongside party-affiliated contenders, adding a new dimension to the democratic process.

As can be picked from names of some of the parties contesting the elections, service delivery and regional dynamics are some of the topical campaign issues during this poll.

Parties have campaigned on a promise to improve service delivery in most parts of South Africa, pledging to bring back the days of uninterrupted supply of electricity and water as well as pothole-free road infrastructure.

The country has faced intermittent power shortages over the past few years, blamed on aging generating infrastructure.

Water shortages have also become a common challenge in recent years, again providing political fodder for opposition parties to attack ANC policies.

In addition, South Africa’s diverse provinces each present unique electoral landscape. Each of the main provinces has local issues and regional dynamics that play a significant role in shaping voter preferences.

KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has hitherto been a stronghold for the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party, but the entry of the Jacob Zuma-led uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) threatens this dominance.

If the MK secures a significant share of the KZN vote, it could weaken the ANC’s grip on the province.

The ANC’s situation has not been made any easier due to its internal divisions and corruption scandals in KZN and other parts of the country. These challenges have created an opening for the MK and other parties.

In the Western Cape, the DA is expected to continue holding sway, with its focus on governance, service delivery and opposition to ANC policies resonating with voters in the province.

However, the ruling party is hoping to gain some ground in the province by emphasizing social justice and inclusivity.

Smaller opposition parties like Good Party are also challenging the DA’s dominance in the Western Cape, with their anti-corruption stance and appeal to marginalised communities expected to disrupt the status quo.

In Gauteng province – South Africa’s economic heart and home to Johannesburg and Pretoria – economic issues, job creation and infrastructure development are central concerns.

With South Africa grappling with high unemployment, energy shortages and stark inequalities, voters’ experiences and frustrations could sway the vote in Gauteng and other parts of the country.

Gauteng also has a large youth population and political parties that address youth unemployment, education and housing are expected to gain favour.

Political campaigning is expected to end at midnight on 28 May, with anyone caught going beyond this deadline charged for contravening the Electoral Act.

The Department of Home Affairs was expected to open until late between 27 and 29 May for those needing temporary IDs or to collect documents that will be used for voting.

According to IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo, more than 27.8 million voters are eligible to vote this year – the highest number since independence.

There has also been a marked increase in the rate of representation by persons in the age group 18-39 years, which accounts for 42 percent of total voters – or 11.7 million people on the voters’ roll.

Another interesting statistic is that there are more females than males on the voters’ roll. Of the 27.8 million voters, 15 million are females, representing over 55 percent of total.

To facilitate the electoral process, 23,292 polling stations will be operational across the country’s nine provinces, ensuring accessibility for the registered voters.

Voters will for the first time receive three ballot papers instead of two ballots: a national ballot; regional or province-to-national ballot; and a provincial legislature ballot.

The national ballot “will consist of a list of political parties vying for seats for 200 seats in the National Assembly,” according to the IEC.

“This ballot will be used to vote for political parties. There are currently 52 parties that will be on this ballot.”

The regional or province-to-national ballots “will have political parties and independent candidates contesting for the seats reserved for each province in the National Assembly.”

Voters will use this ballot to elect a political party or an independent candidate to represent them in the National Assembly.

The provincial ballot is unique to each province and includes parties and independent candidates competing for seats in each respective provincial legislature.

This ballot will allow voters to choose either a political party or an independent candidate to represent them in provincial legislatures.

Voting will take place at is expected to commence at 7am (0500 GMT) on 29 May and close at 9pm on the same day.

As per the norm, the elections will be observed by local and foreign observers to ensure that they meet agreed standards.

Among those observing the polls is the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), which was launched on 22 May and is being led by former Zambian Vice President Enock Kavindele.

The deployment of the SEOM by Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema underscores SADC’s commitment to democratic principles and fair play.

Hichilema chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, which oversees the promotion of peace and security in the region.

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