Covid-19 will influence 2021 voter turnout but SA has bigger political trust issues: Mathekga

30 November 2020 - 15:00
By cebelihle bhengu AND Cebelihle Bhengu
People no longer trust the government to deliver basic services, says political analyst Ralph Mathekga.
Image: Gallo Images People no longer trust the government to deliver basic services, says political analyst Ralph Mathekga.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says low voter turnout should be expected in the 2021 local government elections, not only because of the Covid-19 pandemic but also due to poor performance by local governments.

Mathekga told TimesLIVE that while a lot has been said about how the pandemic will likely influence the August election, broken trust between the government and voters had long affected voter turnout.

Voters no longer trust the government 

“The Covid-19 pandemic will affect voter turnout, but we should also be mindful of other issues that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

“There is something else in SA about the poor performance of local government, it is a failure and you cannot be diplomatic about it. You are looking at a situation where local government is not doing well and people are disgruntled, which on its own pushes people away,” he said.

He said service delivery by local governments can get South Africans to show up in numbers at the polls.

“People cannot just vote because it is a democratic ritual, they will vote because of what they get in return. They don't think they are getting much. The pandemic found us in the state of severe failure of this sphere of government,” said Mathekga.

The by-elections and voter turnout 

SA held the country's biggest by-elections two weeks ago in 95 wards across 55 municipalities, after it had been postponed in March the pandemic. The Electoral Commission (IEC) said it was “encouraged” by voter turnout though it was slightly lower than usual.

The commission attributed this to the pandemic and the election happening on a normal work day, among other things.

“The average turnout was 37.83% compared to 38.73% over the past four years. The highest turnout recorded was 75.29%, in ward 4 of the Port St Johns municipality in the Eastern Cape.

“Given the fact this was the first election conducted during Covid-19, that election day was a normal working day and the inclement weather in many parts of the country, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, the success of the elections bodes well for the upcoming municipal elections scheduled for 2021,” said the commission.

Use the Covid-19 excuse while it lasts

Mathekga says while the commission's response cannot be disputed, the pandemic has little to do with low voter turnout.

“South Africans will go to a shebeen, go party and get Covid and yet they can't go to a [voting station] that is 4km away? My view is that Covid-19 is becoming less and less of an explanation.

“The big problem is the political resentment. I will say to the IEC, enjoy this explanation while it lasts because it won't stay long. The real problem will be exposed.”