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Africa

ANC awaits bill of health as South Africa votes counted

media An ANC supporter holds a poster of Cyril Ramaphosa at a meeting of the ruling party in Johannesburg, 5 May 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Like most elections, South Africa’s sixth democratic poll has left more questions than answers. Many of these will be dealt with as results pour in from the nearly 29,000 voting stations to the Independent Electoral Commissions’ nerve centre in Pretoria.

Election results, by tradition, come on Saturday evening.

But with the opposition Democratic Alliance already calling for a full audit of the vote – citing several instances of alleged cheating and voters casting more than one ballot – that could now be delayed.

The burning question, however, is what happened to young voters.

Fewer than a third of 18 and 19-year-olds actually registered for what should have been their first election.

Understandably, the vote is precious thing in South Africa: hard won after years of painful and often bloody struggle.

Ninety percent of South Africans older than 40 are registered voters.

Record voter registration

Which gives rise to the second question: how many actually cast their ballots on Wednesday.

The turnout for the first democratic election in 1994 exceeded 80 percent. Five years ago, it was 73 percent. A record number of nearly 27 million voters registered for this election. Official figures were yet to be released.

Mmusi Maimane, surrounded by supporters, at a Democratic Alliance rally in Soweto, Johannesburg, 4 May 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The reasons for those who stayed away can be attributed to a pair of features peculiar to South African politics.

The first is a growing belief that vigorous and frequently violent protests are more effective than voting.

Academic studies by organisations like the Institute for Strategy Studies and the Crime and Justice Information Hub show this belief is mostly held by the youth.

After all, apartheid was overcome through popular protest labelled at the time as making the country ungovernable.

It is a term that has lately been repeated in demonstrations against the government’s inability to keep its election promises and providing basic services like water, schools, clinics and access to electricity.

Disturbances

Voting was disrupted at more than a score of centres on Wednesday.

Roads were blocked with stones, trenches were dug to block access to polling stations.

Voting was delayed at 17 stations and prevented all together at five.

Police, 51,000 in all, were on hand to deal with protesters and in one of the identified hot spots, North West Province, they were backed up by the army.

Rubber bullets and stun grenades were fired against one group but no injuries were reported.

Fears that the notoriously poor public policing by the South African Police Service might ignite further violence did not materialise.

The second reason for the stay away is the tendency of South African voters to boycott an election as an expression of disappointment rather than vote against a party of choice that has failed to deliver.

The changes that came about in 2016 are a reflection of a lower voter turnout in local elections rather than changes in party affiliation.

Waning support for ANC?

On Thursday, with a third of ballots counted, the ANC had 55 percent, the Democratic Alliance 25 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters eight percent.

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, greets supporters at a rally in Soweto, 5 May 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Those three parties are expected to palm 90 percent of the support with the other 45 parties battling over the scraps.

The right-wing Freedom Front Plus was faring better than expected with three percent.

It is important for the ruling party under President Cyril Ramaphosa to exceed 62 percent of the final tally – the total that disgraced President Jacob Zuma achieved.

The pretext for his removal was that he was damaging the party. This will be made to look ridiculous by the pro-Zuma camp if the party fares worse without him.

Less than 62 percent will also mean support for the ANC has waned in every election since 2004.

That sort of decline becomes increasingly difficult to halt.

The DA looked to have secured an overall majority in the Western Cape which has become its stronghold despite damaging bickering within its ranks.

Nevertheless, a national score of less than 22 percent will be a blow to the DA's Mmusi Maimane, who, in his first election as party leader, cannot afford to preside over the first decline for the DA in Democratic South Africa.

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