South Africans vent frustration, this time in municipal elections
In the fourth municipal elections since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africans voters say they are disappointed with politics in general.
Johannesburg, South Africa
When South African President Jacob Zuma cast his municipal vote in his home village of Nkandla, he told reporters that “casting the vote is one of the most important things that any citizen must feel proud of.”Skip to next paragraph
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Johannesburg resident and political analyst Mabine Seabe was much less enthusiastic, however, when he fired off this post-vote tweet: “It's not the best feeling when you vote based on principle rather than for a party you believe in.”
Long lines of voters across the country – in urban centers, sprawling squatter camps, and rural districts – should be an indication that South Africa’s hard-fought democracy is alive and well. But anger over the government’s failed promises to provide basic services like water and electricity, and the main opposition parties’ difficulty in connecting with the needs of ordinary South African voters send an opposite signal, of a country ill at ease with its political class and its present system of choosing leaders.
Today’s municipal elections – the fourth since the end of the apartheid government in 1994 – should be a way to measure public moods, since municipal governments are the ones that have the most direct effect on ordinary South Africans’ lives. But past elections have shown that even a disappointed electorate tends to vote for a certain party for racial or ethnic reasons rather than because that party performed well or not – and that voters who are disappointed enough simply stay home.
If there are significant changes in this election, however, with black voters crossing over to the mainly white and somewhat liberal Democratic Alliance, then this election could be seen as a thundering rebuke to the ruling African National Congress, which has largely held power in the majority of South Africa’s towns and cities since liberation in 1994.
In Alexandra, South Africa's largest black township after Soweto, voters and non-voters near a polling station shared complaints about the high unemployment rate, the government’s poor record at delivering basic services, and rampant corruption within the ruling ANC party.
Sophie Mavunda said she sees no purpose of voting. "Except for today, the Johannesburg Metro cops [usually] come here on a daily basis to confiscate our wares, particularly vegetables, tomatoes, bananas, oranges and other perishables,” she says. "We order these fruits at a price from farmers located 100 kilometers [62 miles] out of Johannesburg, only for the greedy Metro cops to prey on us.”
It is government officials like policemen whom South Africans tend to see as the front lines of local government, and the government’s inability – or unwillingness – to crack down on corruption among those who are supposed to enforce the laws is a sign that corruption runs all the way to the top, some South African voters say.