Dubious Polls | Municipal Electioneering 2021

Our streets have been brightened by disillusioning posters as parties parade their empty promises for the upcoming municipal elections. At the same time, the lived realities of South Africans continue in an increasingly desperate and disenfranchised way, and local government has been debilitated by widespread corruption, maladministration and the blatant theft of public funds.

The campaigning in the lead up to this election mirrors much of daily rhetoric in South Africa’s socio-political climate today. At best, nothing has changed; at worst, a worrying scoop into divisive and conservative politics which polarises people even more and never deals with the real issues.

Many of the young people I have spoken to in the lead up to this election have faced a kind of abeyance. Some certainty and allegiance for who they won’t vote for but also uncertainty as no party speaks to what is required to ensure safe, inclusive communities that would allow the unemployed or marginalised to participate in society.

Municipal elections are different. They should provide an opportunity for participation and people to realise democracy being played out in their everyday lives, for communities to be improved and for councillors to respond to the specific needs of that community.

Concerning narratives emerge around any election as parties try and harness the limited support they can through opportunistic means. These narratives don’t emerge from an abyss, but campaigns bring out subversive messages which have always been in communities, making them ever louder than what we thought.

The Democratic Alliance campaign poster in Phoenix, Kwa-Zulu Natal, is a clear display of this emerging politics, profiting off violence from the June unrest to push their race-based politics. ‘On the surface, the posters are a product of very old prejudices – in an area beset with racial tensions, they cheer on those who see African people as a threat. But there are also shades of the new. They imply that racism is evil but that those who are accused of it are victims.’ https://www.newframe.com/the-da-is-becoming-the-poster-child-of-the-right/

Similarly, ActionSA, led by the infamous Herman Mashaba, is no stranger to using anti-immigrant sentiments to win votes. Playing on the imagination of people, he insinuates that our problems are a result of open borders. However, borders have enabled and allowed historical and circular migration, a feature of democratic South Africa that is unlikely to change.

Both racist and anti-immigrant narratives are unhelpful for South Africans and the improvement of our communities. These narratives are divisive and distract from the real challenges of corruption, incompetence, unemployment, poverty and its resulting violence.

So, as you head to the polls on Monday, take a moment to critique the messaging that may have brought you to make a specific vote. Try not to vote with your emotions. There is much more at stake than what we feel: the common good, our communal life. Think for a moment of the wider representation in your community. Does your local councillor care about how your tax money is spent, the infrastructure in your community and have the interests of the poor, unemployed and homeless in mind? It is imperative that we let go of sentiment and vote not for parties or candidates but for what is best for our struggling communities.

Abigail Dawson

Abigail Dawson holds a Masters in Development Studies, Sociology, from the University of Witwatersrand. Her activist and academic interests have focused on migration in a South African context. She is a qualified social worker and has provided counselling for migrant women and children. She hopes to bring change to the current public and global narrative on migration through effective and creative communication, networking and advocacy to ensure equitable communities for all people living in South Africa.

abigail.dawson@jrs.net
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