On August 3rd we will hold the fifth municipal government elections since democracy; a change for all South Africans to have their say in how their country is managed.
Over the last few elections however, both General and Local Government elections have seen a notable and steady decline in the proportions of people participating in elections.
In the 2014 general elections, the turn-out of registered voters was 73% as compared to 77% in the last two preceding elections. This accounts for a decline of 4% of registered voters actually participating in the election.
To further assess the general participation by our people in the electoral process, it is important not only to look at the participation of registered voters in the election but to also assess the participation of those eligible to vote when taking into consideration the voting age population in our country.
In 1994, 86% of the voting-age population participated in the general elections as compared to 57% in 2014.
This is a reflection that more South Africans are neither registering nor participating in the electoral process.
A number of factors could account for this trend in declining electoral participation, some personal, some political, some socio-economic. Regardless, it remains a worrying trend.
Since its establishment in 1912, the ANC’s policies have been were premised on the creation of a South Africa where the principle of ‘one man, one vote’ would apply and all South Africans of voting age would be given the opportunity to participate in a free and fair democratic process to elect their own government and representatives.
As we celebrated 40 years of Youth Day we paid tribute to the heroes of June 16, 1976 as their efforts had helped us realize the right to vote and freedom for all.
Equally, the women who marched on the Union Buildings on the 9th of August 1956 and whose 60th anniversary we will celebrate soon after our local government election, did so not only to advance the struggle for the recognition of the rights of women but also to place on record their demand for the extension of the right to vote to the African majority and women.
The historic strength of the ANC and by extension our democracy has been its ability to mobilize society behind a common mission and vision.
As a result, our democracy is a participatory democracy where as the ANC we have created and legislated various means for people participation in governance outside elections.
The establishment of ward committees, hospital boards, community policing forums and the occasional ‘taking parliament to the people’ programmes are all intended to improve and promote public and community participation in governance.
These fora and platforms are bases of people’s power and it is their efficient functioning that reflects our commitment to such to be guided by such power.
However, the strength of any democracy lies in its people actively participating in the primary activity of democracy – elections.
Over the last few months the ANC has criss-crossed our country engaging in campaigns encouraging our people firstly to register to vote and of late, to go out and vote on 03 August 2016.
Local government is an important sphere of government. It is here that municipalities oversee the delivery of water, sanitation, electricity, primary health care, public transport and housing.
It is in these areas that many of our people continue to express demands on a day to day basis. Since the advent of democracy there has been considerable progress made in the delivery of basic services.
Over 80% of our population currently has access to water. To date, we have provided decent sanitation to over 80% of our population and electrified over 77% of households.
However, the reliability of services is key amongst issues raised by communities currently. Our people want efficient municipal services that are reliable with operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure and investment in the new.
Local government has also enjoyed increasing support from the national government in an effort to strengthen municipalities that have shown to have inherent weaknesses in governance, financial management and the delivery of basic services.
The government has through the Back-2-Basics programme sought to provide the requisite support to again ensure that this important sphere of governance serves communities with efficiency through sound administrative processes and effective leadership.
These interventions are designed to raise citizen confidence in local authorities and to enhance citizen participation in development planning and processes, specifically the compiling of the Integrated Development Plans of municipalities. Again this is another reflection of how our system of governance lends itself to community and mass participation in decision making.
With the above in mind, it thus become critical that we pay specific attention to the participation of the voting-age population the electoral process.
Politically, it is in the interests of all citizens to become active participants in determining the political and policy future of any nation in order to safe guard their interests and to make an expression on their aspirations and the future they would want to see for our communities and country.
South Africa is a changing society and as more young people begin to graduate into the voting population, define their political interests and socio-economic priorities, the more the demand on leaders within society to consistently reaffirm the importance of the vote in determining our collective future.
Whilst our rights allow for citizens to engage and even protest on matters of their dissatisfaction within our system of governance, citizens must be encouraged to utilize the vote as the first point of engagement as it assures one the ability of engaging a government for which you would have voted in determining.
Over the years the Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) has developed systems and put in place virtual processes to make the exercise of the right to vote as simple and hassle-free as possible.
Currently, our people have the ability to verify registration details online and also to access information on the wards within which they reside and candidates of the various political parties in such wards.
The ANC has also gone a step further in the current election and taken the unusual step of introducing mayoral candidates in the metropolitan municipalities and other strategic municipalities as a means to provide citizens with an assurance that the ANC is fielding the best candidates to take forward the good work that our municipal councils have done in the past terms.
This follows our own processes that have provided communities, beyond ANC branches and structures, the opportunity to have a say in the ward candidates that the ANC has affirmed to contest on behalf of the party.
These are all efforts by the movement to promote the voice of citizens and indeed advance people’s power. However, the most critical expression of this power and the processes already concluded is the mass participation of voters on election day.
As we move beyond the election before us, we will surely begin to engage various sections of society and to promote civic education as a means to reverse the worrying trend of few sections of our population participating in the elections.
Efforts and particular attention must be directed to the youth to ensure that we educate and empower them to appreciate the importance of voting and being part of determining the government of your choice in elections.
This we will do not only to promote the fortunes of the ANC but to promote and safe guard this democracy that those who came before us fought and died for.
On 03 August 2016, we must encourage all registered voters to indeed go out and cast their votes to again give a mandate to the incoming term of local government in our various communities.
CDE. NOMVULA MOKONYANE IS A MEMBER OF THE ANC NEC, NWC AND HEAD OF ELECTIONS AND CAMPAIGNS.