07 May 2014

Vote Against Corruption?

South African national and local elections expected to deliver referendum on corruption

Today’s elections in the Republic of South Africa may be a watershed moment as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party is expected to lose support amid corruption scandals, and reports of election-related violence and coercion.

ERCAS partner Institute for Security Studies (ISS) released a press briefing with two of their researchers, Lizette Lancaster and Judith February who called today’s vote, “one of the most contested elections of the past 20 years.” The organization published an interactive map of violent and non-violent election-related incidents since January 2013 showing a total of 78 incidents, two-thirds of which turned violent, with most of the incidents occurring over the past six months.

According to Lancaster, “Violence has shifted away from KwaZulu-Natal towards the more hotly-contested provinces such as Gauteng. The risk of violence increases where the dominance of political parties at a local level is challenged by newcomers.”

The ISS reports that the incidents have included the torching of polling stations, intimidation of voters, disruption of political party meetings by rival parties, attempts to disrupt the voter registration processes and even political killings. By in large, the perpetrators are unknown, but for those who are, their political affiliation has been: ANC (54%) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF, 22%), party founded by former ANC League leader Julius Malema.

President Jacob Zuma was accused in November 2013 of grand corruption for misspending huge sums of public money on his private residence. The President insists the money was spent on needed security upgrades, but public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela concluded after his investigation into the matter, that Zuma had reaped “substantial” personal gain from the upgrades (which included a swimming pool, visitor’s centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, paving and extra homes for Zuma’s relatives) at “enormous cost” to the taxpayer.

Opposition parties have worked hard to fan the flames of the scandal and the 2013 Afrobarometer survey shows 66% of South Africans feel their government is not working to ensure a society free of corrupt behaviour. While South African has an anti-corruption framework, according to ISS researcher Judith February, they have struggled with implementation, preventing them from holding well-connected individuals accountable if they are found out to have behaved corruptly.

While it is unclear the extent to which voters have decided if enough corruption is enough to throw the ANC out of power, as February states, the issue is high on the political agenda. “Voters will have to decide which parties best represent their interests with regard to corruption. The vote on 7 May will in many ways be a test of South Africans’ attitudes towards current levels of corruption and a commitment to transparent and accountable governance.”

A number of former ANC government officials have made public statements that they will not be voting for the party this time. Former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils and former Deputy Health Minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge have both voiced their opposition. Kasrils also urged voters not to simply abstain from voting; however, a number of disaffected voters have threatened to do just that. ISS released the results of a study two days ago which they conducted on young (ages 18-24) voters showing that many of them lacked the necessary knowledge to effectively participate in the election.

To follow ISS results of the election, check their website www.issafrica.org for further information and follow ISS election commentary on Twitter #SAelectionwatch.