As South Africa prepares for its national elections on Wednesday 22 April, many grassroots organisations in South Africa plan to boycott it in protest, reports UK development agency War on Want.
During elections in 2004, the Landless People's Movement (LPM) initiated the ‘No Land! No Vote!' campaign to express a vote of no confidence in the range of political parties on offer in the elections.
The group Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM, literally ‘people living in shacks') joined the boycott during the 2006 local elections and changed the campaign slogan to ‘No Land! No House! No Vote!'.
The campaign is now organised under the banner of the Poor People's Alliance, an alliance which comprises, among others, our partners LPM, ABM Durban, ABM Western Cape, Sikhula Sonke and the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign (WCAEC). Recently, the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), a War on Want partner based in Johannesburg, also opted to boycott the forthcoming elections.
Since the fall of Apartheid 15 years ago, social movements and rights' organisations across South Africa have become disillusioned with the policies of the African National Congress (ANC) government.
The slow pace of delivery of services such as electricity, housing and piped water facilities and the lack of transparency in the delivery process have left many poor residents of townships and shack settlements disappointed with the government.
The introduction of cost-recovery policies for public services by local government has meant that many poor residents are no longer able to afford access to water, electricity and formal houses. This has been exacerbated by the rise in unemployment and massive job losses caused by trade liberalisation.
Furthermore, social movements have criticised the lack of consultation by local and national government and the top-down nature of policy formulation and implementation.
With the 2010 football (soccer) World Cup approaching, many South African residents and traders face eviction from their shacks or trading places as the government tries to ‘clean up' the cities and to prevent tourists from seeing the ‘other side' of South Africa's cities.
These harsh measures have led many to compare the current government with the Apartheid government, which was notorious for its ‘forced removals' which displaced many South Africans from their homes.
Against this background, social movements are demanding that the government listen to the people and make an effort to understand the plight of the poor. The decision to boycott the election has not been taken kindly by some government officials.
Social movements have increasingly been subject to state repression and intimidation and their legitimate protests and democratic right to refuse the vote have been criminalised by the state.
In February 2009, a community meeting held by the WCAEC in Gugulethu, Cape Town was disrupted by police. Hundreds of men, women and children were tear-gassed and several were beaten with police batons. Two AEC leaders were arrested.
In March 2009, five activists from an APF affiliate in Kliptown, Soweto were sentenced and found guilty of ‘public violence' after merely exercising their right to protest and making legitimate demands for long awaited housing and basic services.
In the run-up to the 22 April 2009 national elections, major political parties, such as the ruling ANC as well as opposition parties such as the Congress of the People (COPE) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), need the support of South Africa's poor.
The no-vote campaign is a powerful answer from social movements to politicians that the poor cannot be easily manipulated, says War on Want. They have been actively campaigning in South Africa's townships and shack settlements, promising improvements in service delivery and making efforts to engage members from the community.
War on Want says it supports their campaign for justice, and will continue to work alongside its South African partners in opposition to policies which deprive millions of their rights.
War on Want: http://www.waronwant.org/