Is voting colour-blind?

2014-04-20 15:00

It may seem a little counterintuitive, but the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) counts members of South ­Africa’s Jewish community among its biggest policy supporters.

“We’ve recently had great support from the Jewish community due to anti-Israel sentiment in South Africa,” says ACDP national chairperson Jo-Ann Downs.

The ACDP stands alone among the parties in Parliament that reject the notion of Israel as an “apartheid state”. In fact, the party is very supportive of the Jewish state.

Party leader Reverend Kenneth ­Meshoe recently addressed the congregation at a Milnerton, Cape Town, synagogue.

But will all this translate into support at the polls?

Downs says there’s no way to be sure, but “in essence, we [Christians and Jews] have the same values”.

Still, it may be a stretch for people who identify themselves as Jewish to put their cross next to a party founded on Christian values.

Downs believes South Africans are starting to move beyond “identity-driven voting”?–?they are not donning religious, ethnic, gender or racial caps before voting.

Globally, research ­into how much religious, ethnic or social identities influence voting shows that parties relying on a single identity are losing support.

But Ebrahim Fakir, manager of the ­political parties and parliamentary programme for the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, cautions against using the word ‘identity’ in this context.

“Everyone votes [according to] their identity. No one votes anything else. Identity is a polyglot,” he says.

He adds that parties like the ACDP, the Minority Front (MF), the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the IFP are “niche, ­special-interest parties” and appeal to “one particular segment of identity”.

He suggests that voters can see different aspects of themselves represented by various parties and voting becomes a case of “Who do I identify with more?”

“Very few people will vote on such narrow, exclusivist terms.

“In some way, we all vote our ­‘identity’ in its broadest sense, but few of us vote on the basis of foregrounding just one aspect of our identity.”

So, he says, most white Afrikaners will not vote for the FF+, nor Indians for the MF, because other aspects of their ­identity will take precedence.

Downs says that locally, some people do vote purely based on their religious identity and values. For example, Christians, and particularly those who belong to traditional African churches.

But she is quick to add: “We’re not saying: ‘Vote for us because we’re ­Christian.’ It’s value based.”

Elsewhere on the ballot paper is the MF. Its leader, Shameen Thakur-­Rajbansi, holds a very different view.

“Identity politics is a reality in South Africa that can’t be dismissed by the ­bigger parties,” says Thakur-Rajbansi.

Her late husband, MF founder ­Amichand Rajbansi, was part of the apartheid-era tricameral system, which divided the houses of Parliament along racial lines.

Thakur-Rajbansi says this system is proof that “identity has been ­entrenched?...?The reality is that ­identity-based politics will stay in South Africa for a long time.”

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