THE SHOCKINGLY LOW TURNOUT IN THIS LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTION IS A STRONG MESSAGE BY THE PEOPLE OF SOUTH AFRICA THAT THEY HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF BAD SERVICE DELIVERY
Comment by Pastor Ray McCauley Sun 14 Nov ‘21
The 2021 Local Government Election was held under very difficult conditions because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone is fully aware of the difficulties and challenges that have been imposed on our lives by this pandemic. The Electoral Commission had to organise and deliver a credible Election under these conditions. To make matters worse for the Commission, it had only 42 days to do so, a challenging and difficult task whichever way you look at it.
I’m saying this in the context of the complaints and the criticism that has been levelled against the IEC, some of which are justified and reasonable. Yes, the Commission could have done better and been better prepared. How is it possible for a couple from the same house not being able to vote together at the same station? Problems such as devices failing to work and some employees not knowing how to use them – this points to poor training for both the employees and the volunteers, which is simply unacceptable. Such things should not have happened. However, we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater in this situation.
With the above in mind, I commend the IEC for organising and delivering the 2021 Local Government Election in the shortest time in the history of our Nation, and for keeping our democracy moving forward. Elections are the heartbeat of our democracy and the results must be protected at all times, as too the credibility and integrity of the IEC itself.
Let’s look at the outcome of this election. What seems to be on everybody’s mind and which has shocked most South Africans, the political parties in particular, is the shockingly low turnout by South Africans at the polls on 01 November 2021. Political parties and the IEC are trying to figure out why South Africans did not show up to vote. The IEC reported that 26million South Africans are registered to vote but only 12million turned up – a very bad turnout. Several glaringly well-known reasons could have contributed to the lowest turnout in the history of our democracy.
Two weeks before the election, Eskom subjected South Africans to a rolling blackout, the so-called load shedding. The country was taken to Stage 4 at the shortest notice with no proper explanation nor apology to the people of South Africa.
For two weeks angry and frustrated South Africans were left in the dark. There were traffic jams everywhere as people tried to go about doing their daily business. Businesses were affected and small businesses were even more devastated. I heard of the story of an 80year old lady who operates a tuckshop in one of the townships who had to throw away all her damaged stock.
These rolling blackouts also happened just as the learners in Matric started their final year exams. If there ever was a time where we saw the anger and frustration of our people, it was during those two weeks of the rolling blackouts, without a clear explanation from the Government. What kind of Government subjects its citizens to such suffering, frustration and anger two weeks before the elections but at the same time tells them they must vote. You cannot expect angry and frustrated citizens to respond to such a call. In fact, such behaviour by Government only contributed to the people boycotting this election as a form of protest.
Secondly, the scale of poor service delivery in the Municipalities is beyond comprehension. We saw on our television screens, during the campaigning by political parties, the extremely poor conditions that many people live under, particularly in the townships and informal settlements. The lack of basic services in these areas is extremely shocking, there is damage and poor infrastructure, especially the roads, no streets lights in some areas, the poor collection of refuse, no water in certain areas, and no electricity. The fact that political parties continued to make more false promises to these communities, is actually shameful – raising people’s hopes but knowing very well they will not keep these promises.
Thirdly, the scale of corruption and financial mismanagement in the Municipalities has gone beyond the crisis point, in fact, it is a disaster. As a result, these Municipalities are failing to meet their monthly obligations and failing in basic service delivery to the communities. Year in and year out, for at least the last ten years, the office of the Auditor General has released a damning financial report of mismanagement but no one has been held accountable and no one is being arrested.
These are the issues people have been complaining about and taking to the streets year in and year out, but their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. It is, therefore, no surprise that there was such a low turnout in the Local Government Elections. Our people are tired and have lost hope – their trust in the system is gone. I believe people used the only weapon they had which was to send a strong message to the leaders saying enough is enough of poor service delivery. I don’t agree with people not voting, no matter how angry they are, but people were left with no choice but to use the only tool in their hands by boycotting the election.
I heard some political parties blaming the IEC for the low turnout – I beg to differ. The political parties, who oversaw these Municipalities but failed to serve the people for years, must take the blame for the low turnout, this is a message to them by South Africans.
Let’s look at the outcome of 2021; the ANC failed to garner more than 50 percent of the votes in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, just as happened in 2016, but this time around the ANC has gone below 50 percent, a first in the history of our democracy nationally.
The fact that parties are currently busy negotiating coalition local governments where there has been no outright winner also points to our maturing democracy. I must point out that the last coalition governments were not great at all, let’s hope that political parties got the message from South Africans through this low voter turnout.
My hope is that this time around, as political parties negotiate, they will place the interests of citizens first instead of focusing on who gets the biggest spoils and focus on the delivery of services to the people of South Africa and not their political Agendas.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)