Covid-19 And Its Impact On The Upcoming South African Municipal Elections

A cartoon drawing of 4 people lined up to cast a vote into a ballot box

Every 5 years, South Africa holds nationwide Municipal Elections, and on the 1st of November 2021, the time will come once again for registered South African voters to have their say. This time, however, the ever-looming threat of COVID-19 presents an obstacle in the procession of these elections, mainly with regards to parties’ responses to the pandemic, how this may affect the votes, and how the elections will be held amid the pandemic.

 

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The quinquennial (held every five years) municipal elections present an opportunity for registered South African voters to “elect councils for all district, metropolitan and local municipalities in each of the country’s nine provinces”.

In 2016, out of a total of 14,957,083 valid votes, the African National Congress (ANC) received 7,977,723 of them. During that year, the ANC retained control over 176 councils, 22 less than they had in the preceding municipal elections that were held in 2011. Despite this loss, they still retained a majority over other parties.

Looking at the data provided, despite the ANC performing better than every other party, a decline in voter confidence was visible then, and it is possible that the trend may continue during the 2021 elections. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, which has plagued South Africa since March of 2020, doubts around the ANC party’s ability to lead have continued to be a topic of debate.

One point of debate is in regards to the hard lockdown that was instituted during the start of the pandemic. Many people, especially those from less-privileged backgrounds, suffered from job losses, and lack of access to basic necessities under lockdown regulations. Often when they would make attempts at bettering their situation, they would be met with brute force by South African security forces, an approach that many citizens expressed criticism over.

Furthermore, the loss of millions of rands that were to be allocated towards pandemic relief also raised many people’s eyebrows. However, it is not to say that the initial hard lockdown did not work to help curb the virus’ spread, as because of it, our health professionals and government officials were afforded more time to come up with a Covid relief plan whilst reducing person-to-person contact.

Nonetheless, the less than confident attitudes towards the ANC remain, stemming not only from the Covid-19 relief issues, but also from the government’s apparent inability to tackle the now regarded ‘second pandemic’ in the form of the gender-based violence crisis in our country, and much more. 

Even more so, however, strong competitors such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), have also faced their fair share of criticism and transformation over recent times, which could result in an interesting outcome of the final election results.

Moreover, the decision to make the adjustment back to level 1 lockdown, which came on the 30th of September and was to be instituted on the 1st of October, exactly one month before elections, has also been called to question. .

Many South Africans on social media found it convenient that the lockdown would be eased just before elections. Many believed that this move was to ensure the conduction of large political gatherings during election campaigning under Covid-19 regulations. 

Whatever the motivation, many were relieved to have been afforded more freedom of movement after the country was hit with a devastating 3rd wave, and the easing of lockdown had come at a time when the 3rd wave had been said to have passed.

As far as the voting procedure goes, voting will remain in-person, following basic Covid-19 regulation with regards to wearing masks, remaining socially distanced, sanitising regularly, and so on. 

Ultimately, the pandemic has brought many things to light for the South African public, and there is no doubt that these revelations will have some sort of impact on the upcoming election results. However, what effect those impacts will imply, is yet to be seen. 

 

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