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Last chance to register as South Africa awaits election date

By Dave CLARK
South Africa Turnout at voter registration centres was low on the last weekend they are open before South Africa's general election later this year, but President Cyril Ramaphosa still draws crowds in his ANC party's stronghold Soweto.  By EMMANUEL CROSET AFP
FEB 3, 2024 LISTEN
Turnout at voter registration centres was low on the last weekend they are open before South Africa's general election later this year, but President Cyril Ramaphosa still draws crowds in his ANC party's stronghold Soweto. By EMMANUEL CROSET (AFP)

South African politicians were trying to mobilise their supporters on Saturday, the last chance for citizens to register to vote before an imminent announcement of general elections.

Thirty years after democracy replaced apartheid rule, this year's election will be seen by many as a referendum on the performance of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Polls suggest the party may lose its overall majority as memories of the anti-apartheid struggle fade and voters focus on more recent scandals and economic underperformance.

Turnout at voter registration centres in Johannesburg was very low when AFP visited on Saturday, but the mood in the ANC camp was more buoyant as President Cyril Ramaphosa met supporters in Soweto, just outside the city.

"It's going very well," he told AFP in a crowd outside the Jabulani Mall, predicting a successful registration drive. Asked when he would name the election date, he smiled broadly: "Soon".

Some ANC officials in the crowd suggested the announcement could come as soon as Thursday, when Ramaphosa is due to give his annual State of the Nation address to parliament in Cape Town.

Electoral officials suggested that low turn out for voter registration could be explained by younger citizens signing up online.  By EMMANUEL CROSET AFP Electoral officials suggested that low turn out for voter registration could be explained by younger citizens signing up online. By EMMANUEL CROSET (AFP)

Others though pointed to the ANC manifesto launch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on February 24 as a possible date to make the announcement and launch a more formal campaign.

Whenever the date is confirmed, Saturday and Sunday were the last days for in-person voter registration -- online registration will continue until the election date is proclaimed.

Low turnout

In Fordsburg, a southern working class district of Johannesburg, one polling station had only seen six people turn up to register or to change their address in the first three hours of opening.

Outside the centres, the ANC and the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), had set up awnings to shade party workers trying to engage their supporters to join in the registration drive.

A handful of smaller parties also turned out, notably the xenophobic Operation Dudula, an anti-immigrant movement that has been accused of fomenting violence against arrivals from elsewhere in Africa.

Johannesburg schools that will soon be polling stations for this year's general elections were pressed into use as voter regisration centres, although turnout was sparse.  By EMMANUEL CROSET AFP Johannesburg schools that will soon be polling stations for this year's general elections were pressed into use as voter regisration centres, although turnout was sparse. By EMMANUEL CROSET (AFP)

There were comfortably more party observers than new voters at every station AFP visited, but officials from the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said they were not concerned.

Several suggested that older people are already registered and that young people might be signing up online, despite poor connectivity and rolling power cuts in many areas.

"They can register online, but this centre is open for people who don't have the gadgets," explained IEC official Mosa Khunou after helping an elderly man change his address on the register.

The general election must be held within 90 days of the end of Ramaphosa's term in May, and will elect a National Assembly which in turn will decide on whether to extend his mandate or endorse a new president.

The ANC is expected to remain the biggest single party.

But with liberal DA under white MP John Steenhuisen nibbling at its support from the right and challenges from the radical left in the form of Julius Malema's EFF and the new UM, backed by controversial former ANC president Jacob Zuma -- it may for the first time need to build a coalition.

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