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To vote, or not to vote? That is the question

South Africans can be very opinionated people when it comes to everyday issues facing the country. Whether it is about Zuma’s Nkandla-gate, the Guptas, SABC, eTolls, racism, Oscar, Bafana, Zimbabwe or Eskom, everyone has an opinion. And it usually is a very strong one (unless they are not aware of the netiquette of using caps and exclamations) in the digital world!

“None of this freedom of expression would have been possible without our hard won democracy,” you might hear old folk/struggle heroes saying. Millennials be like, “yeah yeah, we heard enough about all your hardships, that’s in the past.”

Despite these strong opinions being voiced in the clouds (the social media ones), and around braais and dinner parties, you very rarely hear people feeling strongly about voting (unless you move in political circles). I mean, how many people are even aware of the difference between local government or municipal elections, and national elections? Or even what is a ward councilor, let alone who the ward councilor in their area is? And do they care? You might even hear some saying: “Agh, its only local elections” or “nothing will change”

What we do know is that the Independent Electoral Commission has been quite successful in increasing the number of registered voters over the past two decades since democracy. However, despite the good intention of citizens to express their opinion at the polls, we also know that the people who actually turnout at the polls has been declining over the years. Turnout for national elections as a proportion of registered voters in 1999 was 89%, and this has dropped considerably to 73% in 2014. Ironically, local government elections, which has more of a direct impact on the day to day lives of people, generally experiences a far lower turnout compared to national elections (48% in 2006, and 57% in 2011) (Source IEC)

Why? Do people think that national is of greater importance than local elections? Or that there will be long queues? Or do they just not care enough? Or maybe they don’t know which party to vote for? Wouldn’t it be great if we could vote online! Hopefully soon soon, the eSkills Colab at Durban Institute of Technology are working on that.

Ok. So here’s the lowdown:

Municipal or local government elections are more localised elections to vote for a political party and person (councilor) who will be responsible for delivering services (like water, electricity, refuse removal, parks, roads, schools, libraries, disaster management for fires/floods, police etc) in the area of your home (ward). They happen every 5 years (in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011). The next one is on 3 August 2016.

The National or general elections also happens every 5 years. These happened in 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and the next one will be in 2019. This election determines the party that will form the national government, and how many seats the majority party and other political parties get in Parliament according to the number of votes received. Whilst your ward councilor will take responsibility for services in your local geographic area, national government will be responsible for developing policies and programmes for all the provinces in the country.

So, 3 August is around the corner. And the power is in your hands. If you want to influence who provides the local services that you get, and what local services they should provide, you can do so just by rocking up at the polling station and voting. Be there, or be square!

If you are unsure who to vote for, start by checking out the Mayoral candidate in your city, and who the proposed ward councilors are from the different parties and areas (see https://www.elections.org.za/content/For-voters/who-is-my-councillor-/). If you do not deem any party worthy of your vote, you can still express this view by ‘spoiling the ballot’ (e.g. marking two x’s), which will result in your vote being null and void. This is a common practice in many other democracies in the world, such as in the US and UK.

It’s your choice! Make the right one.

Amit Makan is VP of Politics & Development Content at Independent Media