Sowetan: Record turnout expected at polls

Record turnout expected at polls
22 April 2009
Anna Majavu

Results will show which party was successful in selling its message

Millions of people are holding their breath over what will happen after they have cast their votes today.

Twenty-three million voters go to almost 20000 polling stations to choose between the 40 parties contesting what analysts have described as the most competitive election in South Africa so far.

All, except business leaders, who hope for more of the same, are expecting a radical shake-up of the political scene in the months to come.

The political scene has been nothing less than crazy over the past six months – politicians from across the spectrum went all out to reinvent themselves, while others, such as Peter Marais, “rose from the dead” to join Cope only to quit almost as quickly as he had joined.

The split in the ruling party and the emergence of Cope, whose name rhymes nicely with hope, is said to be the reason why more than three million people rushed to register as voters. But does everyone in South Africa find these elections the most interesting since 1994?

The public has had brief glimpses into the lives of the majority – the poor –- courtesy of highly publicised “door-to- door” electioneering by political leaders who rarely set foot in the country’s ghettoes and informal settlements after they ascend to Parliament and cabinet.

When the electioneering began about three months ago, it was common cause to catch sight of cabinet ministers on foot in the townships dressed up as if they were going on safari, complete with hiking boots, walking stick, khaki pants and hiking jackets.

They soon dropped this get-up in the race to hold rallies blaming each other for the lack of service delivery. The ANC, which disconnects water in Gauteng, held rallies against water cut-offs in DA-ruled Cape Town, while the DA, which disconnects water in Cape Town, bemoaned the lack of water in other provinces.

Former ANC long-timers such as Mosiuoa Lekota could be found stepping over sewer-clogged drains in Du Noon informal settlement, urging people, without a trace of irony, not to vote ANC because it had failed to deliver.

Several social movements have decided to boycott the vote altogether. These include the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement in Durban – which claims about 40000 members in the informal settlements – several organised farmworker groups in the Western Cape and Johannesburg’s popular Anti-Privatisation Forum, which won a court case against pre-paid water metres in Soweto in the high court.

The APF released a statement on Monday saying “none of the political parties contesting these elections are worth voting for”.

The ANC has a history of making false promises over the past 15 years and doesn’t have the political will to implement its latest manifesto, says the APF.

But despite this, there is likely to be the largest turnout of voters in South Africa’s history today. In fact, the IEC is expecting that 80 percent of the estimated 23 million registered voters will vote today.

But not everyone who wants to vote will be able to. For example, residents of Igoli informal settlement might end up not voting because they do no have transport to the nearest polling station, which is in Grassy Park, outside Cape Town.

In the past, political parties have ferried residents. However, this year only the PAC has made the promise. Given the party’s dire financial situation, it apparently can only provide one rickety van.

We will soon know if voters were won over by Patricia de Lille’s plan to turn South Africa into the world leader in renewable energy, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, or if they preferred to believe Jacob Zuma’s promises that the ruling party would be more pro-them .

The acrimony between the DA, Cope and ID will be a thing of the past next week as the parties scramble to form a coalition government in the Western Cape, stopping briefly only to fight over whether Allan Boesak, Helen Zille or De Lille gets to be premier.

Scepticism aside, the ray of hope this election has offered is what the Catholic, Anglican and Methodist churches described this week as the “significant easing of tensions in KwaZulu-Natal”.

Last weekend, IFP and ANC members in rural KwaZulu-Natal, returning from different rallies on different buses, started hugging one another at a petrol station. This was unheard of in 1994.