The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has just this week released a report on the past weekend registration process, which saw more than 3-million South Africans visit their respective voting stations to either register, re-register or update their details. Will this in itself be enough to halt the shifting sands? On its own, I think not. Be reassured that the numbers are relatively decent but they do not reflect a pivot to an approach that will substantively deal with the decline.
However, in these dark days we are all looking for glimmers of hope and so it is reassuring that 692,730 South Africans registered for the first time with 1,317,506 returning to the voting station that many last saw on 7 May 2014. In 2011, the IEC saw 534,016 South Africans register for the first time over a comparative voter registration weekend. South Africans are not sitting idly with 78.6% (or 544,552) of all new registrations this past weekend being people under 30. This is a reassuring number but is not enough to arrest the decline.
To remind you all, in the 2014 national elections, about 25-million South Africans (of a 31.4-million voting age population) registered to vote, while about 18-million South Africans turned out to vote. This past weekend we saw interesting trends in KwaZulu-Natal, which had the highest overall registration activity with 864,295 South Africans visiting their voting stations (approximately 28 percent of the national total) followed by Gauteng (526,580) and the Eastern Cape (519,674), which each contributed about 17 percent of the total activity.
Political parties will be trying to mount an aggressive and targeted approach in the looming local elections with a great deal of focus being spent in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, North-West and Kwazulu-Natal. The Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance will be attempting to convince voters to shift their voting behaviour and to encourage those voters to turn out.
These numbers are reassuring but they do not sufficiently address the silent majority that either do not register to vote or don’t participate on voting day. A robust democracy is not only defined by those who choose to go to the ballot box but voting is the first step in a process that should see South Africans becoming more engaged in order to address injustice, inequality and unfairness.
Of course, we should ask ourselves why is it necessary to register for an inalienable right that is afforded by the Constitution. How do you register to use a right that you already have? We may not be ready in this current election cycle to address that issue but we are also seemingly indifferent to that dusty report about electoral reform that was set out in the 2003 Van Zyl-Slabbert Report, which was handed to then President Thabo Mbeki.
I am doubtful that Mr Mbeki will be penning a missive about that in his weekly Monday series. Of course, those recommendations can’t simply be implemented as more than 12 years has since passed but we must be reminded that discussions were had with the ANC, ACDP, FF+ (then the FF), NFP, UCDP, PAC, UDM and DA among other political parties in October 2002. Where are these political parties in the discussion?
Interestingly, Dr Wilmot James of the DA and Advocate Pansy Tlakula, former Chairwoman of the IEC (who encountered some difficulties in 2014 after the Public Protector’s Report and eventually resigned after the national poll) were all members of the Electoral Task Team. There may be selective amnesia in South Africa but we should renounce this tendency and begin to ask why are these former Electoral Task Team members are not championing these recommendations.
The IEC will be busy trying to figure out some of the formal processes and be preparing for the final registration weekend, which will take place on 9 and 10 April 2016. The formal participation in our democracy through elections, ward meetings and the like are not enough in order to realign South Africa’s future. We should be thinking about how we holistically address the issues confronting South Africa and how to convert these issues into opportunities to walk together and go beyond the ticking-box exercise of simply focusing our energies on the formal processes of our democracy. DM