Today, more than 26 million registered South Africans will vote in crucial polls, set to be a hot battle for control of the country’s 259 municipalities, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
Generally, municipal elections are characterised by voter apathy and attract a very low turnout compared with national elections. This looks unlikely to be the case in today’s polls if the pre-election euphoria is anything to go by.
Sadly, this excitement was marred by a marked increase in violent protests and political assassinations that have claimed dozens of lives. Statistics show that protests have nearly doubled in South Africa since 2010, with anger and frustration being at the heart of this civil unrest.
Most of disgruntled communities’ demands are related to a failure by their municipalities to deliver basic services, such as water and electricity.
Just yesterday, hours before voters geared up to cast their ballots, an enraged mob burnt down two voting tents in Freedom Park near Eldorado Park. In the troubled Limpopo township Vuwani, government deployed the SA National Defence Force as part of efforts to secure the elections in response to the shutdown of the area by protesting residents.
It is unclear whether it will be safe enough for the IEC to open polling stations today in Vuwani after it was unable to do so for special votes on Monday. And violent incidents in Vuwani and Freedom Park are not isolated.
There are other hot spots in a few other parts of the country where communities have vowed not to vote in protest against poor services. This should not be the case in any healthy democracy where the electorate fully understands the power of its vote.
Today offers South Africans, including those disgruntled ones, the chance to use one of the fundamental liberties – the right to vote for individuals or political parties they best think will effect a meaningful change in their lives.