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South Africa’s Online Election Talk Heats Up

Indelible ink applied to the thumb after voting in South Africa. Darryn van der Walt/Flickr

By Melody Chironda

South Africa’s online election conversation is heating up – and key points and concerns are emerging, according to the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC).

Social media serves as a powerful platform for citizens to voice their opinions, concerns, and expectations for the upcoming elections, and the organization’s online analysis reveals the dynamics shaping the electoral narrative as South Africa heads to the voting booth.

Between February 1 and 11, 2024, online conversations surrounding the country’s elections were dominated by key events like President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) manifesto launch, and the emergence of former president Jacob Zuma’s new political party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party.

“Points of debate arose on whether voting the African National Congress (ANC) out would rid the country of corruption, and by extension load shedding, and whether coalitions would be beneficial for the country.  Researchers drew on the five barriers identified in a paper analyzing voter abstention in the 2021 local government elections,” the bi-weekly report said.

5 significant barriers influencing voter participation:

  • Personal challenges
  • Administrative issues
  • Political views
  • Disillusionment
  • Performance evaluations

There is an ongoing debate regarding the potential consequences of voting out the African National Congress (ANC), with discussions centering on its possible impact on addressing corruption and alleviating load shedding. The questions on everyone’s mind seem to be coalitions – which parties will form them and how it will affect governing in provinces in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and the ever-present issue of corruption in the government and private sector.

“There was a strong sentiment that South Africans only hate corruption if they are not the ones benefiting from it,” the CBAC report reads.

A recent push to register South Africans abroad through the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC’s) online platform triggered concerns. The IEC’s social media is flooded with individuals sharing registration difficulties, highlighting the need for a more accessible and streamlined process for South Africans living overseas.

“Disillusionment remains a central theme in registration discussions,” reports CBAC. “One post even used images from the Battle of Isandlwana to portray democracy as a colonial construct. This reflects a broader trend that questions the suitability of Western-inspired democratic institutions within the African socio-cultural and political context. While it’s too early to determine the significance of this sentiment or how it will evolve ahead of the elections, it’s worth noting.”

Performance evaluations are a major focus, with ongoing power cuts (known as load shedding) fueling calls to vote out the African National Congress and leading to online criticism of its supporters. Ramaphosa’s speech drew mixed reactions; while some agreed with his positive portrayal of life in South Africa, others found it inaccurate.

Ramaphosa’s description of Tintswalo‘s life since 1994 in his State of the Nation address was particularly controversial. Some South Africans felt Tintswalo‘s story was similar to their own, while others accused Ramaphosa of ignoring the decline of public services since the start of democracy.

Performance evaluations are a major focus

In the lead-up to South Africa’s upcoming elections, concerns about the spread of misleading information are surfacing. One example involves claims that the “ANC is distributing illegal IDs to foreigners to influence the vote”. A post by the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) saying they outperformed the ANC in new voter registrations raised eyebrows, as party affiliation is not revealed during the registration process.

This prompted calls from concerned citizens for the IEC to address these potentially misleading messages. The IEC, in response, clarified that voters are not obligated to disclose their intended party choice.

This online conversation amassed over 250,000 mentions from about 50,000 unique accounts between February 1 and 11, 2024. Prominent hashtags included #VoteMK2024, #RegistertoVoteEFF, #EFFManifestoLaunch, #SONA2024, and #2024isOur1994, reflecting the diverse range of perspectives and political affiliations participating in the dialogue. Interestingly, despite anti-ANC sentiment, the #RegisterToVoteANC hashtag was used significantly, mainly by ANC leaders and provincial accounts.

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