Wednesday, 7 May 2014 was Election Day in South Africa! This is an especially big deal because this country has only had open and democratic elections for the last 20 years, which means that I was able to bear witness to the fifth Election Day this country has ever seen in which each adult person has the right to vote. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a serious passion for the democratic process. I was super excited to be here for this momentous occasion, and want to share bits and pieces with you! That being said, politics in South Africa is complicated. I could, if I wanted, do a whole series of blog posts just about the political sphere here. Instead, here are some pictures and stories from Election Day!

On 27 April, 1994, the lines to vote took hours and many people waited all day to cast a ballot. In my neighborhood this week, the longest line I saw took about a five-minute wait. This is due to a host of reasons, from improved logistics for polling locations to a lack of voter turnout. Below you can see a picture of a line to vote on the very first democratic Election Day in South Africa’s history, back in 1994. The first time I saw this picture, I cried to see so many people so passionate about civic engagement.

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There are a huge number of political parties in this country. In the Western Cape alone, there are 27 parties on the ballot. The local contenders include the African National Congress (ANC), which is the current ruling party, and the Democratic Alliance (DA). Other parties who had signs and booths in my neighborhood include the Congress of the People (COPE), Patriotic Alliance (PA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The picture is of a list of all 27 political parties in the Western Cape. (Please note: I took the picture at a booth for the DA. I am not in any way trying to express support for one political party over any others.)

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The South African elections are run by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Their main purpose is to ensure the election process is fair and just, without any corruption or serious issues. Here is the big IEC banner outside one polling location.

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There was also a huge police presence at the polling stations. Here, you can see a police officer walking into the schoolyard where the polling station was located. In the hour I was watching the action, I saw five various officers walk around the premises.

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Here is a DA sign on a house in my neighbourhood. People have signs around their houses for their preferred candidates, just like in Arizona!

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Here is the ANC booth outside the schoolyard. Parties are allowed to table outside the polling location, but are not allowed within the gates.

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One nifty thing about elections here is the “inking” process. As each person goes in to the polling location, they have to have their ID checked, and then they get their thumb “inked.” Essentially, a small black line is drawn on their thumb with a permanent marker. This prevents people from returning to vote twice, and is also a great way for people to show off that they participated in the election! 

The picture below is of one of my best friends, Monique. Monique and I work together, and her house is next to a polling location. I spent the afternoon standing on her stoep watching the action, getting a tour of the neighborhood from her, and even getting a tour INSIDE one of the polling locations! Apparently when Monique introduced me to an IEC official, he thought I was an official “international observer” and ensured I got a tour of the inside from the IEC supervisor. We then went back to Monique’s house to hang out with her sisters and friends and watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians (which Monique and I both hate, but her sisters love). I am so grateful to her for so many reasons. Check out her “inked” thumb in the photo- she voted!

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It was announced today that the ANC has won their fifth-consecutive election, with nearly 63% of the national vote. Also, voter turnout was almost 75% of those who had registered for this election. My prayer is that the ANC will work with the other political parties in South Africa to not only improve the quality of life for citizens, but also to ensure that there are democratic and fair elections for generations to come. 

 

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