South Africa’s Historic Polls: Unprecedented Voter Turnout And A Possible Turning Point In 30th Year Of Democracy

Published 23 days ago
South Africans Await Results In National Election
Results will be officially announced on June 2. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

South Africa is in the midst of a historic election as votes have been counted and are still being captured and finalized, with nearly 80% tallied so far. This election marks the most competitive since the country’s first democratic vote in 1994, posing a real challenge to the long-standing rule of the African National Congress (ANC).

For the first time, the ANC faces significant competition, particularly in the country’s KwaZulu-Natal province, from the newly-formed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party led by former President Jacob Zuma, named after the armed wing of the ANC under apartheid. Despite its recent establishment, the party has experienced tremendous growth, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction with the current political landscape, with the party appearing to cannibalize votes from the ruling ANC.

This election encompasses municipal, provincial, and national ballots, raising the real possibility of coalition governments. Record levels of voter turnout have been reported, with some people queuing until midnight to cast their votes. Notably, in the run-up to the election, South Africa has experienced its longest period without loadshedding (power outage) in recent memory, providing some respite to voters and hinting at the pressing issues influencing their choices.

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Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) expressed satisfaction with the electoral process, stating to media at the Results Operating Center (ROC) in Johannesburg: “We are pleased with the high turnout and the smooth running of the voting process. Every citizen who made an effort to be at the voting station was given the opportunity to vote.” He emphasized the IEC’s commitment to ensuring every vote counts and maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.

Mamabolo also addressed the high turnout, noting: “Evidently, we are in for a higher turnout than we had in 2019, which is why it is the singular intention of the commission to ensure that every voter who is in the queue is given an opportunity to record their political choice.”

Despite minor delays and technical issues at some polling stations, the IEC reported no major irregularities. The country’s stagnant economic growth and high levels of corruption have fueled voter turnout and the rise of smaller parties such as Build One South Africa (BOSA) and Rise Mzansi, challenging the traditional dominance of the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

As the results continue to come in, the ANC’s majority is genuinely threatened. If coalitions become necessary, it could dramatically change the political landscape at every level of government in South Africa.

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Mamabolo assured the public that the vote counting process would be both swift and accurate. “The commission is careful not to take long to get to a point where they declare results. We balance two imperatives: accuracy and speed, to ensure the country is not left in a politically tenuous situation,” he stated.

The election day (May 29) itself was not without its challenges. Long queues and occasional technical difficulties tested the patience of voters. In some areas, delays were caused by problems with voter roll machines and the late arrival of ballot papers. However, these issues did not deter South Africans from exercising their democratic rights. Voters in urban areas, particularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, reported a late surge in turnout, keeping polling stations busy until the very last minute.

The high voter turnout is a testament to the public’s desire for change and accountability. Many South Africans have expressed frustration over the persistent issues of unemployment, crime, and corruption. This election has given voice to these concerns, with voters seeking alternatives to the status quo. The emergence of new political entities and the potential for coalition governments reflect a more dynamic and possibly fragmented political future.

Looking ahead, the final results of this election will set the stage for South Africa’s political trajectory. Whether the ANC manages to retain its majority or is forced to form alliances, the implications will be profound. A shift in power dynamics could lead to significant policy changes and a re-evaluation of governance strategies. South Africa stands at a crossroads, with the potential for a new era of political collaboration and reform on the horizon. Mamabolo stated that results are likely to be finalized over the course of the weekend.

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