By Paul Hoffman
The right to vote was won after a long struggle. Many sacrificed their lives and careers to get South Africa to the point at which its masses were liberated. And it’s disappointing that so few choose to vote.
In many countries, voting in a general election is considered a chore. In South Africa, voting should be regarded as a privilege that has become a hard-won right.
Everyone eligible to vote should do so out of informed self-interest, if for no other reason. A spoiled ballot sends a louder and clearer message than simply staying home and treating election day as if it is just another public holiday.
The right to vote has only been enjoyed by the majority of South African citizens since 1994, when the parliamentary sovereignty of the apartheid era was replaced with a constitutional democracy under the rule of law.
Simultaneously, the franchise – or right to vote – was extended to all adults irrespective of race under the system being replaced with a supreme Constitution. The people govern through their elected politicians, and all politicians are bound to paint within the lines drawn in the Constitution.
The right to vote was won after a long struggle dating back to the days of colonialism. Many sacrificed their lives and careers to get South Africa to the point at which its masses were liberated.
It is accordingly disappointing that so few choose to vote, even though this choice is their right too. It is thought by analysts that the stay-away on voting day in the past happened, at least in part, because potential voters were disappointed with the performance of their preferred politicians, but were unable to identify an acceptable alternative.
In the previous general election held in South Africa, more people eligible to vote chose not to do so than the total number of votes cast for the ANC-led alliance (with the SA Communist Party, Cosatu and the SA National Civic Organisation, all of which encourage their members to vote for the ANC come election day).
In the 2024 elections, it is expected that about 400 political parties will participate. More than 350 have already registered to do so. For the first time, it will be possible for voters to cast their votes for an independent candidate who is not attached to any political party, following amendments to the law occasioned by a court decision in favour of the participation of independents.
Most of the smaller parties, many of them campaigning on a single issue, will not get sufficient votes to send a candidate to the national or provincial legislatures.
At present, there are 14 parties represented in Parliament. Polling data suggest that, despite the full field on the ballot paper, the number of parties that will be represented in the next Parliament is unlikely to rise markedly. Some tiny parties may fall by the wayside to be replaced by the new formations that currently proliferate.
The parties currently represented in our legislatures can be divided into two broad categories: those that follow a revolutionary agenda aimed at securing hegemonic control of the levers of power in society, and those that espouse multiparty constitutional democracy under the rule of law.
Among the so-called revolutionaries are the EFF, led by Julius Malema, and uMkhonto Wesizwe, the controversial new party supported by ex-president Jacob Zuma.
“Radical economic transformation” is the watchword of these formations; they are critical of capitalism and the current way in which the economy of South Africa is organised.
Under the ANC’s leadership, South Africa joined the BRICS alliance and remains on friendly terms with China and Russia. It entertains Hamas, spurns Israel and is cool towards Ukraine.
The largest constitutionalist party in the current Parliament is the Democratic Alliance. Other parties which support constitutionalism under the rule of law include the IFP, Freedom Front Plus and ACDP.
Some new formations that have come into being since the last elections also support constitutionalism in broad terms. These include ActionSA, the Patriotic Front, Build One South Africa, Rise Mzansi and Change Starts Now.
With close to 400 parties to choose from, plus the independent candidates who toss their hats into the ring, it is clear that voters have a lot to consider before placing their X on the ballot paper.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa, which ensures the holding of free and fair elections, will be conducting a voter registration drive on the weekend of 3 and 4 February. It is worth checking that your name is on the list of voters at your local polling station because if it is not, you will not be able to cast your ballot. A phone call to the political party of your choice will enable you to easily check your status.
It is wise to vote early to avoid lengthy queues and to not miss the 9pm cut-off.
If it is impossible to physically be at the polling station on voting day (widely expected to be the first Wednesday in May), it is possible to make special arrangements to cast your ballot. Daily Maverick’s Victoria O’Regan has good advice for voters who are out of the country on voting day.
The difficult part of the decision-making process for many will be which party or candidate to support.
If your mindset is of a revolutionary bent and you prefer SA to swap its traditional international alliances in favour of supporting BRICS, Hamas, Cuba and Zimbabwe, then a vote for any of the parties that espouse the National Democratic Revolution is the way to go.
If your concerns are less ideologically inspired, and more aligned with the delivery of services and the discharge by the state of its obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights guaranteed to all in the Bill of Rights, then you will make your decision based on your assessment of the track record of those who govern or aspire to do so in terms of the manifesto they present to the voting public.
Factors such as load shedding and failing water infrastructure, poor health services, corruption, crime, a crippled criminal justice system and inferior education may inform your vote.
Compare the track record and manifesto promises of parties with the values and principles enumerated in section 195(1) of the Constitution. It informs how the public administration and state-owned enterprises should be run. It ought not to be regarded as a dead letter; on the contrary, it is part of our supreme law which elected politicians swear to uphold.
Be aware that social grants are a constitutional obligation, not a gift to the poor from the ANC.
Before voting for any party, read its manifesto carefully. Manifestoes are being launched at an increasing rate – they set out the aims and objectives of the party.
Compare the manifesto with the track record, if any, of the party presenting it, at the national, provincial or local levels. Weigh the credibility of promises made in manifestoes. Assess how parties have behaved in coalitions.
Those bad at or avowedly opposed to coalition governments should be viewed cautiously. Democratic maturity is required to govern in coalition governments, not only in SA but around the world. Those adept at creating and pursuing coalition governments with success should attract the attention of thinking voters.
Most importantly, be aware that serious corruption, organised crime and State Capture are threats to freedom, peace, prosperity and progress. Be sure to vote for those who do not find themselves under a cloud due to allegations of corrupt activities within the ranks of their parties.
Check the manifestoes and vote for any party with a convincing plan to deal with corruption. Be assured that those parties that support the creation of a new Chapter 9 institution to prevent, combat, investigate and prosecute serious corruption in SA are on the right track. Corruption is a cancer that robs the poor and kills all hope of a prosperous future.
The 2024 poll is widely touted as being as important as the momentous 1994 election. It is a time for calm heads and serious thought. It is an opportunity to exact accountability from those who have governed, as well as a chance to replace those whose governance has proved disappointing.
Voters get the government they deserve. Those who do not vote at all cannot complain about a lack of service delivery or non-implementation of the promises of our democratic constitutional order. The blueprint for a better life for all is in our globally acclaimed Constitution.
Voting for a party or an independent candidate who knows, understands and takes the Constitution seriously is the best first step anyone can take in the next five years.
Even a spoiled ballot sends a clear message to the politicians – one that is clearer than any boycott could be. DM