Becca Cohen’s Blog

“An ignorant free vote”

On Wednesday, April 22 South Africa will hold its fourth democratic election. While all elections spark debate and controversy, this particular election is unique in that Jacob Zuma, the head of the incumbent African National Congress (ANC) is awaiting an August trial for corruption and fraud charges. Zuma has already been tried once for corruption and once for rape allegations. The ANC has won every election since 1994, but there are some speculations that another party could take power with this election, especially given the creation of the new Congress of the People (COPE) party.

I had the opportunity to attend an election debate on campus yesterday where representatives from the ANC, Democratic Alliance (DA), COPE and Independent Democrats (ID) answered questions that had been submitted by the student body as well as questions from the audience.

The overall atmosphere of the debate was very different from US presidential debates— everything was much more laid back, with candidates making jokes and someone in the audience shouting that people on the balcony had questions and should be called on as well. At one point a bird flew right in front of my face. I also had trouble understanding some of the questions because of people’s accents, something one of the candidates actually made a joke about. After the debate, DA and ANC supporters stood outside the venue singing and dancing at each other in support for their parties.

A common theme running throughout the debate was corruption and the issue of the rule of law. Phillip Dexter, the COPE representative said: “Even after you’ve been convicted you’re above the law if you know the right people.” The candidates all spoke about the need for people to take responsibility for their own actions, whether it is rapists and criminals on the streets or political leaders who weasel their way out of jail. There was discussion of the general lack of morals that has taken over the country, and how once South Africa was an inspiration and moral beacon to the rest of the continent, but it no longer is. DA representative Ryan Coetzee stated that the prominence of rape is not surprising given the kind of role models the government provides, referring to Zuma. This sentiment was also present in the discussion of HIV/AIDS policy, and how there has been a lack of strong leadership in the prevention campaign. Lance Greyling, the ID representative quoted an ANC leader saying that “teenage pregnant girls should be sent away to boarding school,” demonstrating this lack of leadership.

This is a list of the questions and issues that were raised:
• What do you think were the main causes of last years xenophobic attacks in South Africa?
• What is your party’s view on refusing to let the Dali Lama come to the peace conference in Johannesburg this weekend?
• At least 40% of South Africans live in poverty. What should be done about this?
• What is the most important contribution to South Africa’s high level of rape (one of the highest in the world), and what should be done about it?
• What is your party’s view on policies of protectionism given the current global economic crisis?
• What should be done about all of the corruption and cronyism?
• How does your party propose to revise a new criminal justice system? (To which COPE responded: “If you get a parking ticket they’ll hunt you down for seven years, but if you’re a rapist they’ll lose your docket.”)
• Since 1994 the government claims it has been trying to “democratize education,” what is your view on the outcomes based education program? Currently only 50% of students reach matriculation year. How should the government improve the education system?
• What should be done about climate change, especially given how hard Africa is expected to be hit and the influence South Africa has on the rest of the continent?
• What is your party’s view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
• How can voters distinguish COPE from the ANC when so many members of COPE come from the ANC?
• Why does the ANC allow so much corruption?
• Why are there so many farms that aren’t being used and what should be done about land reform and agricultural policy?
• Please address the issue of government services to rural areas and sanitation.
• How do you plan to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air?
• What should the government do about HIV/AIDS— access to prevention drugs, treatment, the strong stigma associated with it, and the issue of South Africans not perceiving their own risks.

As I sat and listened, I thought about how different the issues facing South Africa are from those in the US— Iraq, the economy, Afghanistan, healthcare, terror, gay marriage, abortion, border control, mavericks, climate change. The debate also gave me a greater appreciation for my South African Politics course, where we’ve spent the past six weeks talking about identity politics— ethnicity, gender, class and HIV. I had not really understood why we were focusing so much on these social issues, but I now realize that these are the pivotal matters here.

The debate ended without any formal closing statements, but fitting with the theme of accountability and responsibility, Dexter closed his argument by saying that “the government lives in state of denial about its problems,” and that only when it confronts the real issue will the country improve.

South Africa Elections homepage.

New York Times article “Waiting to Helm South Africa: President or Convict? Or Both?”

New York Times article “Peace Conference in South Africa Is Canceled”


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Roundup of election results from Europe to Latin America | Worldfocus pingbacked on 9 years, 2 months ago
  2. Roundup of election results from Europe to Latin America | Politics News pingbacked on 9 years, 2 months ago


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