Triumph of the people

2016-08-09 06:00

IWAS genuinely worried about the local-government elections and what would happen to our country.

The run-up to the poll was messy and bloody. Political violence, which had been absent in our society for many years, was a reality again, with 20 party candidates killed in the run-up to the local elections.

Political party campaigns were intense and aggressive. This was more than just a battle for seats on municipal councils. It was a fight to the death for power and resources.

Even national leaders resorted to insults and rhetoric to demonise each other in an effort to draw voters.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane said on the campaign trail that President Jacob Zuma is the only person who “missed apartheid”.

“He is no different to what [Hendrik] Verwoed thought about black people. Jacob Zuma does not believe that it is possible for black people to lead white people,” Maimane said.

This was in reaction to the president’s rather unsavoury attacks on Maimane, repeatedly calling him a snake and condemning him as an “artificial” leader.

It is expected that political leaders take their gloves off in the heat of the election campaign, but it was quite astounding to see the president compromise the stature of his office by resorting to fear mongering and race baiting.

He said he could not understand how black people could vote for the DA and warned that those who did not vote for the ANC would anger their ancestors and cause bad luck in their lives.

One would have expected that a leader who is twice the age of his rivals and with his background in conflict resolution would be more responsible in his statements. Our country certainly does not need more racial divisiveness and volatility, especially after the spate of violence in Tshwane and Vuwani during the campaign period.

With such a negative atmosphere hanging over the poll, I worried about what would happen on election day. Would people be intimidated against casting their votes?

Would there be a return to violence, with clashes between rival parties and destruction of property?

There were other concerns too. Would the election run smoothly? Was the Independent Electoral Commission properly prepared or would people be deprived of their right to vote through inefficiencies and bad planning?

And then the big question: would people turn up to vote or would apathy keep them away?

Then voting day came and millions of South Africans did their democratic duty. All over the country, people went out and voted to make their voices heard.

Voter registration and turnout were higher than in previous elections, and IEC officials and many volunteers worked hard through long hours to see the process through.

There were some hitches and delays, but overall the system worked.

I did not mind the fact that I had to wait two hours to cast my vote when I saw how professionally the IEC officials were managing the operation at my polling station, even smiling through their fatigue when they encountered difficult any customers.

The counting and auditing process took longer than expected, particularly in eThekwini and the Gauteng metros. This process was another source of worry, as there were expectations that there might be widespread disputes and allegations of rigging. But by yesterday morning, there were no major problems, with only the exhaustion of the IEC officials holding up the process.

The provisional results of the elections showed some shock outcomes and the introduction of a new phase of coalition politics in the country. The DA’s win in Nelson Mandela Bay and the neck-and-neck battles in the Gauteng metros hold some hard lessons for the ANC.

The ANC has the opportunity to listen to the message from the voters or remain in denial about the reasons for the outcome.

But whatever the final results, the election was a triumph of the will of the people and our democracy.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. ranjeni.munusamy@gmail.com

WITH SUCH A NEGATIVE ATMOSPHERE HANGING OVER THE POLL, I WORRIED ABOUT WHAT WOULD HAPPEN ON ELECTION DAY. WOULD PEOPLE BE INTIMIDATED AGAINST CASTING THEIR VOTES?

WOULD THERE BE A RETURN TO VIOLENCE, WITH CLASHES BETWEEN RIVAL PARTIES AND DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY?

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