”Written bySaien Benjamin
Why you should vote and what your options are
If you are like me, a South African under the age of 25 there’s a good likelihood that you see voting in elections as a rather pointless act. This point of view is pretty understandable when you consider the monopoly that the African National Congress(ANC) has had over our democracy over the last 28 or so years.
It can feel as though your vote doesn’t really matter when another ANC victory seems like a formality. Additionally, the other parties that are their competition, don’t do much to inspire many young South Africans. Despite all of this I hope that I can help some of you reconsider and realise the part that you can play in changing South Africa, starting with something as small as participating in our elections.
In SA’s last elections, like every other in the History of our Democracy, the ANC won by an overwhelming amount. They clocked in at 57.5 percent of the vote nationally, with their closest competitors the DA miles behind with only 20.8 percent of the vote and the third-placed EFF lagging even further back at 10.8 percent. At first glance, this seems like a truly insurmountable dominance that is unlikely to change within the next decade and even further into the future. What these numbers don’t take into account is the alarming percentage of the population that did not vote. According to one metric, VEP(voting-eligible population) turnout, only 49.5 percent of South Africans who were eligible to vote actually voted. When you become aware of this, it should make you realise that deciding to vote could actually make a pretty big difference. Whilst I am by no means suggesting that voting is the be-all end-all when it comes to changing South Africa for the better, it’s certainly a place to start. If you are unsatisfied with the job that South Africa’s ruling party is doing, it’s worth doing what you can to ensure that their uncontested power is challenged.
According to one metric, VEP(voting-eligible population) turnout, only 49.5 percent of South Africans who were eligible to vote actually voted.
The ANC’s history is far from the simplistic narrative of solely being an incompetent and corrupt ruling party. All South Africans should be aware of the immense contributions the ANC made during the anti-apartheid struggle and in achieving democracy. Some of the greatest contributions to the fight against apartheid were made by ANC stalwarts such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Lilian Ngoyi, and Albertina Sisulu. The ANC’s significance to our history cannot be understated. The impact of ANC organised protests, civil action, disinvestment, and sanctions campaign alongside radical action by its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, played an enormous role in challenging the oppressive rule of the apartheid government. Additionally for all their flaws, denying the changes that have been made under their leadership since 1994 would be unfactual. The reality is that there is a multitude of improvements that have come about since the dawn of democracy. South Africa’s Constitution commits the government and parliament to use their power to ensure substantive dignity, equality and social justice, through the realisation of socio-economic rights such as land, housing, water, education, healthcare, and environmental rights.
Since 1994, 7 million more households now have access to electricity, 93 percent of the population has access to running water, 1.8 million people benefitted from land claims totaling 3.4 million hectares, 9 million children have been provided with free education and 80 percent of households have access to proper sanitation compared to 50 percent in 1994. Transformative economic policies like BEE have contributed to a growing African and POC middle class that was scarce pre-1994, which makes sense considering there was a political system in place designed to elevate whites and oppress the majority of the population. Additionally, many middle-class women have benefited from affirmative action in business boards and management positions. While racism is still very much present, it is no longer widely socially accepted, and hate speech is punishable thanks to laws put in place by this same ANC government.
At the same time, we should not ignore their failings. The reality is that unemployment rates are shocking at around 33%, inequality persists massively and the majority of the African population still lives in poverty. Violent crime rates are still extremely high, with 41 murders per 100 000, assault and violent attacks are also commonplace. Women in particular suffer greatly from the threat of violence, with domestic violence being commonplace and many estimates saying that around 1 in 3 South African women are victims of rape. State-sanctioned violence like that which occurred at Marikana, where 34 striking mine workers were killed by police, and the use of live ammunition against students during Fees Must Fall protests, indicates a disregard for the lives of its citizens. State corruption revealed during the Zondo Commission implicated senior members of the ruling party including President Zuma. The ANC government must be held accountable for these major failures. When considering parties with any realistic chance of challenging the ANC, there are only two, the DA and the EFF.
The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance(the DA) has to be considered. As a party whose membership is still largely white, a large majority of the population is still rightfully skeptical. Many people claim that the DA has shown great competence as the provincial government of the Western Cape and thus would do a better job at running the country than the ANC. Whilst there are valid points to be made about the efficiency of service delivery and how functional the province seems under their leadership, it is only a small percentage of the province’s population that have this experience. The DA caters to their largely white and largely middle-class voter base effectively, keeping suburbs well maintained and roads and infrastructure in those areas in relatively good condition. But if you venture outside these pockets of wealth, the Western Cape’s reality for people who are poor is very different from the commonly perpetuated narrative. The DA has implemented a large number of anti-poor and anti-homeless policies that further contribute to the oppression of poor people of colour in the Western Cape. In 2019 they passed a bill that would fine homeless people living in the CBD for ‘loitering’, fines they would not be able to afford, resulting in homeless people being arrested just for being homeless. The DA mayoral committee member for Safety and Security in the City of Cape Town JP Smith placed the blame for the increase in homelessness on “An influx of foreign nationals”, an extremely dangerous and xenophobic sentiment. Smith is not insignificant in the DA having spent time as the interim leader of the party in the Western Cape. Former party leader Helen Zille has regularly made headlines for extremist right-wing comments, such as when she infamously suggested that Colonialism had a positive effect on South Africa. This kind of anti-poor, racist sentiment and policy means that the DA is never likely to stand a chance as a genuine opposition to the ANC, in a majority black African country.
The third biggest party in South Africa, and the only other party to get over 10% percent in the 2019 elections, is the EFF(Economic Freedom Fighters). The EFF is a radical leftist party that runs on a platform of anti-racism, transformation, and economic emancipation. The EFF has one of the best track records when it comes to taking action against injustice, through protest and civil action and holding the ANC to account for incompetence and corruption. There is only a limited scope of what the EFF would be like in power, having only led in a coalition government with the DA in the City of Johannesburg municipal government. There are many things to be excited about such as their relatively young members, many of whom are radical, young intelligent politicians. People like Dr. Mbuyiseni, who in 2017 won the Most Influential Young South African, inspire a sense of belief in the future that is lacking amongst members of the ANC and DA. Despite its strengths, the EFF is also not without its share of flaws. During his time as the leader of the ANC Youth League, EFF President Julius Malema was a vehement supporter of notoriously corrupt President Jacob Zuma, even vowing to kill for him. Whilst he has come a long way as a politician and has done many positive things since it is understandable that many South Africans are still hesitant to trust him in a leadership position. In more recent times the EFF has been embroiled in the VBS saga where the party’s deputy president Floyd Shivambu was accused of illicitly receiving 10 million Rand from VBS Bank. All in all the EFF is an interesting prospect as a party that promises radical change and a shakeup of the status quo but is not always clear how genuine the motives of their leaders are.
Bearing this information in mind I would urge you to consider the strengths and flaws of each party and consider which one most closely aligns with your views before voting. Most importantly make sure that you do go out and vote as without doing so, our democracy cannot function.
I can by no means claim to be an expert on South African politics but I do hope you come away from reading this with a greater knowledge of your options as a voter and realise the importance of casting your ballot.
Also remember that if none of the major parties appeal to you, there are many smaller parties you can vote for, and starting in the 2024 elections, independent candidates. Whilst smaller parties and independents realistically don’t stand any chance of winning the National Elections, if they get enough votes they can get seats in parliament. By getting politicians aligned with your values into government you can do a lot to shape a better future for our country.
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