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Service Delivery at the 11th Hour: Searching for Votes in Rural Communities

Written by Anelitha Tukela

This blog post sheds light on the issue of manipulation of votes using service delivery before the national elections. The focus of this blog post is to show how the current government manipulates the public through service delivery to win over their votes. The sudden delivery of services during the election year in Kwelerha has made people question the current government’s intentions, is it their campaign strategy or are they improving and delivering these services?   

South Africa holds national and provincial elections to elect the new National Assembly and provincial legislatures in each province. On February 20, 2024, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the Seventh Democratic Elections will be held on May 29, 2024. The Electoral Commission of South Africa stated that on April 17, 2023, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Electoral Amendment Bill into law allowing independent candidates to stand for election to the National Assembly on their own ballots.

Figure 1: Voting Station in Kwelerha (Photograph taken by: Anelitha Tukela)

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the voting procedures are different this year as voters will get three ballot papers instead of two like in previous elections. The first is a National Ballot to vote for a political party to represent you in the National Assembly. The second ballot is the new Regional Ballot which will be used to vote for political parties or independent candidates contesting in the region for election to the National Assembly. The third one is the Provincial Ballot to vote for political parties or independent candidates contesting elections of the provincial legislature.

These Seventh Democratic Elections are the first national elections that will be held after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2024 elections coincide with South Africa’s celebration of 30 years of freedom and democracy. As the South African President stated, “these upcoming elections are also a celebration of our democratic journey and a determination of the future that we all desire”. In 2021 during the pandemic, local elections were held where most people didn't vote due to the fear of spreading COVID-19 and to work with pandemic safety restrictions. This year's elections will be the first elections after the pandemic where people are free without any fear of the pandemic and election campaigns will happen without any restrictions. One of the project researchers, Zikhona Mtwa, stated in her blog post that the youths of Mt. Ayliff believe the 2024 elections will have the same impact as that of 1994 and that “these elections provide an opportunity for the people to assess the progress made and make decisions that will shape the country's future trajectory”.

In Kwelerha, the anticipation for the National Elections hasn’t started yet, nor have election campaigns in the community. However, the local government has been active ever since the announcement of the national election date, since locals are hoping for service delivery. They have shared with me that since this year is an election year, the government will provide them with all the basic services they need to gain the people’s favor and votes. This means that months before the election day, South Africa’s political leaders, especially the current government, will now acknowledge and improve on their failures. If they are unwilling or unable to improve, the parties will lose the public vote as people then choose to vote for a promise of a better future. Therefore, the current government usually manipulates the public by bringing services to the communities as a way to show improvement. After the election, however, the government never maintains these improvements and the services end.

Figure 2: Kwelerha Community Members at Voting Station (Photograph taken by: Anelitha Tukela)

In Tuba Village, Kwelerha, the ward councillor has been working to fix the road since I arrived. It was temporarily fixed last year; however, heavy rains washed much of it away. In the past week, there has been a construction company assigned to fix the road which made a lot of people question the timing of the service delivery. Moreover, the water crisis in the community is suddenly being fixed by the local government so that villagers stop depending on the river for drinking water. This reliance formed after the water truck – usually assigned to deliver water every Tuesday – was not able to provide water in all sections of the community. Now, the government has established new Jojo tanks stationed around the community, with each section of the village having more than three tanks. This is exciting for the community as they will have access to clean water instead of accessing unsafe water from the river. However, the community is still concerned about how the water truck will deliver water to all the Jojo tanks.

With the elections coming up and the recent improvements to the village, people are questioning the timing of these service deliveries, since they have been pleading for these basic services for years. People from the community stated that the local government is delivering these services to the community because they hope to win votes – that this is their campaign strategy. The people who are in favour of the current government have defended the timing of the services by stating the road tender was approved last year and was set to begin this year. They believe it is not tied to the elections, that the government will continue providing these services. The people who are not in favour of the current government, especially the youth, state that every election year the government suddenly has money to fix the problems the village has been facing and they believe that the government manipulates the public to believe they are working towards a better future. The older generation in the community believes that the current government will learn from their mistakes and improve, so they keep voting for them. Meanwhile, the younger generation believes that nothing will improve in their community as long as the current government is still in power. Despite all of these contrasting opinions, the community in Kwelerha is happy that they have received these services and the jobs that come with the service delivery.

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