The low levels of voter participation in the May 8 national and provincial elections and the significance thereof was a key focus in what was arguably one of the most refreshing and insightful Herald Community Dialogue events to date.
Held at Port Elizabeth’s South End Museum on Tuesday, in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Universitybased Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (Canrad), the latest edition of the Community Dialogue was centred on the theme, “The election results are out. Now what?”
Anchored by discussion facilitator and Canrad member Professor Christi van der Westhuizen, the dialogue drew candid, well-balanced and researched analysis and insights into the 2019 elections.
While building the discussions around the political parties involved, the participating panel also gave its engaged audience valuable input into an overarching question dominating international and South African discourse – the state and future of democracy.
The panel included Johannesburg author, academic and political analyst Ralph Mathekga, NMU lecturer and political analyst Ongama Mtimka and political commentator, businesswoman and former Business Day columnist Palesa Morudu.
Van der Westhuizen set the stage for the discussion by revealing startling statistics, which included that millions of eligible South African voters – both registered and unregistered – had elected not to participate in the elections and that just 16% of eligible first-time voters – aged between 18 and 19 – had taken part.
In an equally startling statistic regarding the state of democracy, Van der Westhuizen pointed to a recent survey in which 62% of South Africans polled said they would “give up democracy for security, peace and housing”.
Opening the general discussion, Mathekga labelled the election as “the most mediocre election possible”.
“Going into the election, there were big divides on policy, tensions, expectations of robust elections.
“However, the elections did not scream any change.
“This was really a very mediocre election, there was no stellar performance from any party,” he said, describing the ANC’s election campaign as a “Mea culpa, please forgive us campaign”.
Morudu noted the declines in support experienced by both the ANC and the DA.
“The ANC lost its halo when it abandoned its nonracial position and started to plunder the state,” she said, adding the ANC had been doing well until the presidency of Jacob Zuma, “who used the government as his own personal ATM”.
Mtimka took a fresh approach to his analysis of the election and presented the audience with a rating system.
“I have allocated 50 points to the fact that South Africans again voted on the lines of history and race.
“Voting behaviour has not yet transcended race issues.”
He said the performance of political parties accounted for 20 points of the final results, their respective campaigns accounted for 10 points, and he believed the respective parties’ manifestos accounted for just five points in the eyes of voters.
The panellists agreed that both SA’s political system and the state of democracy warranted further scrutiny.
Watch the discussion here: