Tomorrow we are going cast our votes for the fifth municipal elections. Never before have we had such excitement around local government. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), these elections are record breaking on many fronts.
More than 26 million people are said to have registered to vote and there are about 200 political parties with 61 000 candidates who will contest – that is 65 percent more parties and 12 percent more candidates than the 2011 elections. There are 831 independent candidates contesting these elections – an increase from the 754 we had in 2011. These record figures could mean only one thing – local government democracy is being entrenched and voters have more choice.
The IEC says it will be having more than 22 000 voting stations with 133 000 voting booths across the country and close to 80 million printed ballot papers – the highest ever. Apart from the magnitude of these logistics, the robustness which characterized these local government elections suggests that the stakes are high. Indeed, some pundits have characterized these elections as the most significant post our inaugural democratic elections in 1994.
Except for the violence that marred campaigning in areas like KwaZulu-Natal and other isolated cases in the country, the electioneering has relatively been peaceful. Credit must be given to political parties and their members for not crossing the line. Such restraint is not always possible in the midst of fierce political contestation. Be that as it may, the few assassinations and political violence we saw should be a source of concern. In a three years’ time we will be having our national polls and if we do not get to the bottom of this violence we may have a serious problem come 2019.
One would like to appeal to the voting public and political leaders that as we go for the final stretch tomorrow, the same temperament and healthy competition that we have seen should continue. And the IEC must be on the alert to disqualify any wayward candidate and ensure that these elections are free and fair. We have not seen any major hiccups logistically and all indications are that the IEC will once again do us proud.
From what Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has said, the police are themselves are highly prepared and have committed to ensuring peaceful elections. More than 100 000 police will be deployed at all the voting stations countrywide. That means as citizens we can go out there and exercise our constitutional right to vote in a secure environment. We should not take the work of the police for granted. In other countries on the continent, we have seen law enforcers being used to intimidate citizens during election time.
The freedom to vote was won nearly 22 years ago. It is a right we should never take for granted. Thousands of people lost their lives and some were permanently maimed so that you and I can today cast our votes. Let us reciprocate their efforts by actually going out tomorrow to vote. Their deaths and sacrifices should never be in vain.
Local government elections play an important role in our democratic system and are an excellent way in which ordinary people can contribute to and be involved in their local community. It does not help much to complain about the pothole in your street or the refuse that has not been collected if you are not involved in the affairs of your community and are not going to vote.
In 1994 we went out in our numbers to vote. I remember waking up on Election Day and the queues were long and we patiently waited for our turn to cast that special vote that ushered in our democratic dispensation. Unfortunately, as the years have gone by, the queues have become shorter, especially for local government elections.
But that shouldn't be the case. Tomorrow, we as South Africans need to fully tap into our power of voting. Voting is a formal expression of our opinion about how we are being governed. It expresses our approval or disapproval of what political parties and independent candidates have put before us as their proposals on how they intend to govern us. We solidify our opinions by going out to vote.
Voting tomorrow represents your individual power as a citizen and a constituent and highlights the power of your local community. The policies that affect us the most are at local government level. So, to all registered voters, spread the word to encourage others to go out tomorrow and vote. This is our opportunity to come out in numbers to make a difference. Your voice does make the difference and together we can ensure that elected officials do step up their game.
Whatever the outcomes tomorrow, through these elections people’s consciousness about politics, especially at a local level, has been raised. Let local government democracy be entrenched and may the best party or candidates win. I would like to take this opportunity and call upon all South Africans to pray for a Peaceful Election. Go out and exercise your right.