The 2021 LGE voter turnout marks a shift in our political culture that is likely to impact our political stability

The 2021 LGE voter turnout marks a shift in our political culture that is likely to impact our political stability

The 2021 Local Government Elections (LGE) took place against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw electioneering activities severely constrained due to the ongoing state of disaster – characterized by Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and limitations on the number of people who can attend gatherings. That said, lockdown regulations were relaxed to adjust Level 1 in time for the final stretch of political party campaigns and election day.

This meant parties could hold rallies – an inherent feature of political activity prior to an election -, and made it possible for citizens to come out in their numbers to cast their votes on 1 November 2021. However, this was not the case as South Africa witnessed it lowest voter turnout of any election ever held since 1994 – with only 45.86% of registered voters coming to the polls to cast their ballots. In contrast, voter participation in the 2016 LGE was comparatively high at 57,94%. Previous LGE’s witnessed lower voter turnouts (48,07% in 2000; 48,4% in 2006; and 57,6% in 2011).

Whilst the 2016 LGE marked a shift in voter behaviour – what we could refer to as a mass partisan dealignment, particularly the attitude of many voters towards the hitherto dominant ANC  – the 2021 LGE could be seen as marking a shift in the country’s political culture. Consider, for example, the 2006 LGE, where a mere eight municipalities across the country were hung; or the 2016 LGE with 27 hung municipalities.; to the staggering 66 hung municipalities in 2021. The dominant ANC’s loss of majority in key municipalities in 2016, was in part due to swing voters. This was further aided by the huge number of political organisations contesting these elections (205). Fast forward to 2021, and we see an even greater number of parties contesting, a total of 325.

The decline in the ANC’s dominance in 2016 was also attributable to the fact that a number of eligible voters in its strongholds  did not show up to cast their votes. A number of factors played a role here, such as the public standing of its leader at the time, the state of the economy – especially given that there tends to be a link between a government’s popularity and economic variables such as employment and income levels to name a few.  The latter brings the nature of our democracy under scrutiny.

South Africa is regarded as a democratic state. We hold free and fair elections at regular intervals, there is universal suffrage, there are mechanisms to hold elected representatives accountable and there is a guarantee of the respect for human rights. The nature of our democracy tends to be fixated on institutions and mechanisms that anchor a constitutional political system. However, for democracy to be meaningful, it ought to move beyond a focus on institutions and mechanisms to be more substantive in nature.

Substantive democracy tends to focus on decreasing socio-economic inequalities towards fostering social justice. This would level the playing field and in turn facilitate enhanced political participation. With South Africa boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the world (almost half of the population over the age of 18 falling below the upper-bound poverty line) and is considered the most unequal society in the world, the gradual disillusionment with democracy comes as no surprise.

The 2016 LGE outcomes can be viewed, in part, as disenchantment with the political institution that is the ANC and the political system in its entirety. The dominant nature of the ANC has made the governing party synonymous with the state. As such, the failures of the ANC government are inherently failures of the state. The failure of the ANC government to meaningfully transform the material conditions of many South Africans, and at a decent pace, has ultimately generated disinterest in political institutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic also did the country no favors as it intensified existing structural inequalities. The poor were further kept in poverty by the lockdown-induced economic disruptions as many of them could not earn an income for most of 2020 – this against the backdrop of food price increases and the generally high cost of living. All of these factors are at play in the absence of permanent social security provision for unemployed persons. Essentially, there is no support for people who are willing and able to work – but unable to find any employment.

The low voter turnout can be construed as a protest action by many of South Africa’s voters, who have lost faith in the political system’s ability to positively transform their lives. The danger of this is that people, particularly the poor, are now left to their own devices to fulfill their basic needs. The July unrest was merely a teaser of what may be to come if South Africa’s democratic deficiencies are not expeditiously attended to. The shift in our political culture, the transformation in societal attitudes and beliefs about political institutions, charts a path to political volatility which tends to breed instability.


The heritage of corruption in leadership

The heritage of corruption in leadership

Matlala Setlhalogile and Thabelo Muleya

Corruption is perhaps one of South Africa’s oldest traditions. Yet, there seems to be a constant state of shock every time new instances of corruption are revealed. As a discussion point, fraud, corruption, bribery and general dishonesty remain key features of South Africa’s governance landscape and political discourse. Recent revelations that some Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) further enriched themselves at the expense of efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic (and ultimately preserve lives) shows a flaw in the moral fibre of South African society. However, this flaw in our social and moral fabric is neither new nor easy to fix – and, unfortunately, has become a hallmark of our leadership ‘heritage’.

In celebration of Heritage Day this past weekend, we ought to recognise that not all of our culture and traditions are to be celebrated. While corruption is easily and (rightfully) associated with elements of what the African National Congress (ANC) has become since coming into power 26 years ago, we ought to acknowledge the deep-seated roots of corruption anchored in our colonial and apartheid past.


Corruption During Colonialism and Apartheid

Corruption in South Africa dates back to the colonial era. Amongst our early settlers, Jan van Riebeeck, first realised the potential and suitability of the Cape of Good Hope to supply passing ships with fresh produce on his voyage back from northern Vietnam (now Tonkin). He was recalled for using his office as head of the Tongking Dutch East India Company trading station in 1645, but afforded a chance to redeem himself and was tasked with taking command of the initial Dutch settlement in Cape Town. Van Riebeeck and his ilk did through the exploitation of slaves, an inherently morally unacceptable practice – but this period was marked by tax evasion and corruption by public officials.[1]

The British rule which followed was no different, as public spending was directed to serve private interests. The most prominent colonialist of the time, Cecil John Rhodes, was forced to resign after he gave a friend an 18-year monopoly catering contract for the government-run railways.[2] Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic, the Afrikaner-governed state against which the British fought at the turn of the century, was riddled with nepotism and economic favours for the connected. Patrimonialism, today colloquially referred to as “state capture”, was common during both the Afrikaner and British rule.[3]

It is therefore not surprising that corruption became an intrinsic element of apartheid South Africa. Many politicians and government officials used government machinery and authority to advance self-interest.  It was black Africans who felt the wrath of the corruption and immorality of both the colonial era and apartheid the most. Political figures exploited state machinery to pursue personal interests at the expense, exclusion and oppression of Africans.

Democracy of Corruption

At the advent of democracy in 1994, corruption had become firmly embedded in government machinery and processes. It was also synonymous with business and government relations. These elements set the tone for a post-1994 South Africa.

While apartheid left a legacy of corruption among others, it cannot be faulted for the current corruption. South Africa is at a “tipping point” as corruption is severely entrenched and uprooting it will become a monumental task.

Zwelinzima Vavi’s remarks alluding to the fact that South Africa was in danger of becoming a “predator state” where a new tier of leaders believed it was their turn to “feed”[4] summed up the challenge we currently face.  Once corruption becomes normalised and instutionalised within our society as it is currently, it can be almost impossible to uproot. The entrenched nature of corruption requires bold and decisive action to eliminate.

Despite the reality of corruption, as indicated by South Africa’s ranking as the most corrupt country in Africa by respondents in the Global Corruption Barometer on Africa conducted by Transparency International in partnership with Afrobarometer,[5] there are still instances of defensiveness and denialism, particularly in political circles.  This further shows the tough task the 6th Administration is faced with in curbing the ills of corruption.

Confronting and Tackling Corruption

While the first steps of rebuilding and capacitating law enforcement agencies have been taken by the 6th Administration, political will is also required. The second phase of addressing malfeasance within the state should focus on professionalising the public service. While Ramaphosa has made his intention to this effect clear, this needs to be operationalised. Furthermore, a clear buffer between state and party needs to be devised. The blurred lines between the party and the state has had an increasingly adverse impact on the functioning of the state bureaucracy and public institutions, since this approach has no regard for merit or sound governance. Superimposing party on state is ultimately geared towards capturing the state for narrow self-interest.

As such, curtailing patronage, the ‘jobs for pals’ and cronyism should be at the crux of efforts aimed at combating corruption. Cadre deployment creates a conducive environment for corruption to thrive in the public service and also facilitates it. This is so because cadre deployment allows party factional dynamics to play out within state institutions and in so doing, weakening them. Secondly, corruption usually plays itself out in public procurement processes through deployees interfering with procurement processes by facilitating state contracts for their preferred bidders and also inflating payments for service providers for kickbacks.

Strong state institutions, particularly law enforcement agencies, and a professionalised public service are the anchor of the efforts geared towards combating corruption. However, the realization of this rest on the political will from the political leadership. While corruption is an inherited legacy, it cannot be allowed to persist as it diminishes the capacity of the state and short-changes society. Corruption is immoral and has no place in our society.

[1] Steven Friedman, Prof. of Political Studies at the University of Johannesburg. ‘Corruption is deeply rooted in South Africa’s past. This is why it matters’. IOL (30 August 2020).

[2] JL McCracken; The Cape Parliament 1854-1910. London, Oxford University Press, 1967, p.115.

[3] Steven Friedman (2020). Op cit.


[5] Ibid.

Lack of political will and cultural norms throttle women economic empowerment

Lack of political will and cultural norms throttle women economic empowerment

Author: Matlala Setlhalogile

South Africa’s ability to realise gender parity hinges on advancing women’s socio-economic empowerment. The empowerment of women is of essence as it presents women with opportunities to realise their full potential and in turn enable them to contribute meaningfully to their families, communities and society at large. Women empowerment is a key aspect in advancing equitable development. While we understand the imperative nature of women empowerment, not enough has been done to propel the advancement of women as the reality confronting many women in South Africa is that of systemic oppression and exclusion stemming from both political and cultural factors.

Despite a clear policy position on advancing the interests of women and a plethora of regulatory instruments effecting this policy position, the pace of transformation has been rather lacklustre. The participation of women in the labour market is but one example of the feeble efforts geared towards attaining gender parity. Women account for approximately 51,2{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}[1] of the population yet they have a 32.4{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} unemployment rate, higher than the national unemployment rate.[2] This means women generally have a higher unemployment rate than men.

It is widely accepted that the key components in advancing women’s empowerment are education and economic opportunities. The recent educational trends indicate progress in the education aspect. For instance, a staggering 25{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} of females over the age of 26 had no schooling whilst only 7{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} had an educational qualification beyond matric in 1996.[3] In contrast, there were more females than males enrolled for various qualifications in public higher education institutions except for a masters’ degree in 2016 and with females also having a higher percentage (12.9{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}) than males (10.9{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1}) in post school education attendance.[4]

Moreover, the bulk of graduates in South Africa’s public higher education institutions has been females during the period between 2000 and 2016, and this has also steadily increased from 56.5{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} in 2000 to 61.2{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} in 2016. The Gender Parity Ratio (female-to-male ratio) in educational attainment is also tilted in the favour of women for the period between 2009 and 2018, indicating better fared better in education than men in the past decade.[5]

The encouraging developments in the education trends are yet to translate into a more representative labour market. A more representative labour market would translate into enhanced participation of women in the economy and in turn result in an increase of household incomes and consequently a reduction in poverty. Despite this well-documented fact, disparities in the labour market persist. These disparities are mostly exhibited through the lowest docile of earners being dominated by females mostly because of the gender stereotypes and cultural norms which tend to limit women to lower status or lower-paid positions. This reinforces the stubbornly persisting gender wage gap[6] as women continue to be underrepresented in higher income categories.[7]

Beyond the educational trends and labour market dynamics, the of percentage of females running their own businesses has also declined from 42.9{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} to 35.9{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} between the period 2008 and 2017 with over 75{fdf3cafe0d26d25ff546352608293cec7d1360ce65c0adf923ba6cf47b1798e1} of those being businesses operating in the informal sector. The lower participation of women in entrepreneurial activities can be in part be credited to their lack of access to various entrepreneurial resources influenced by their personal backgrounds, employment experience along with the socioeconomic and cultural contexts in which their businesses operate.[8]

Whilst there has been a clear improvement in access to education for women over the past two decades, this has not translated into correlational participation in the labour market. The gender pay gap also persists. Both the public and private sectors should develop and implement purposeful employment equity programmes to eradicate the disparities in the labour market dynamics. Furthermore, reporting on the gender pay gap should be made a legislative requirement to ensure pay transparency with the ultimate view of addressing the gender wage gap. Moreover, enhanced efforts should be made to provide support for female-owned business. These, along with other available measures, can help reengineer cultural norms whilst accelerating women economic empowerment and facilitating equitable development.

[1] Stats SA. 2019. Mid-year population estimates – 2019.

[2] Stats SA. 2020. Quarterly Labour Force Survey, Quarter 1: 2020.

[3] Stats SA. 2001. Education in South Africa: Selected Finding from Census


[4] Stats SA. 2019. Education Series Volume V Higher Education and Skills in South Africa, 2017.

[5] Stats SA. 2020. Gender Series Volume VI: Education and Gender, 2009-2018.

[6] SA – TIED. 2019. ‘The gender wage gap in post-apartheid South Africa’, Research Brief 2/19.

[7] Stats SA. 2018. Gender Series Volume IV Economic Empowerment, 2001-2017.

[8] Shava, H. 2018. ‘Impact of gender on small and medium-sized entities’ access to venture capital in South Africa’, South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences, Vol. 21(1).