As voter turnout continues to dramatically decline since 2019, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) are amongst organizations that are encouraging people to participate in elections through the Make Us Count campaign. In these 2021 local government elections, they brought election awareness, education, and mobilization.

Many people have raised their concerns about the low voter turnout in this election, only 12.3 million out of 26.1 million people voted. This is a point of concern for our democracy.

The Make Us Count campaign worked hand-in-hand with election officials during the election. Observers were stationed at polls in five cities across four provinces. The campaign has reached beyond the Jewish community of South Africa to bring together Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, and Agnostic observers in its ranks.

The Head of Mission for the Make Us Count Campaign, Alana Baranov, said it was important to vote because people laid their lives down for that to happen, “So many brave men and women sacrificed so much during the struggle against apartheid, and many laid down their lives for democracy in South Africa. It is a privilege we must never take for granted, to be able to have our say in who governs our beautiful country, voting is our contribution to building the future of our nation,” said Baranov.

“Make Us Count election observers have the chance to meaningfully contribute to South Africa’s democratic process, whilst using the platform of election monitoring to build bridges between various communities,” added Baranov.

This campaign was started in 2009. Amongst other things they encourage and help people to register to vote and ensure that details on the voter roll are accurate. The campaign teaches people about the importance and process of voting, people are taught about all political parties so that they are able to make informed decisions.

The Make Us Count observer team is fully accredited by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), monitoring and counting elections to ensure that they are free and fair.

In April 2021, the Make Us Count campaign kicked off a drive to get the Jewish community registered with their correct details on the voter roll. This drive was followed up by highly successful political party debates in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban where high-level representatives from the various political parties shared what they stand for and engaged with the Jewish community on issues of interest. The national office also had a webinar with political analysts and experts, discussing the importance of these local elections and the issues at stake.

An election team of election observers from Make Us Count was stationed at polls in cities and towns in various provinces across the country.

One of the observers, Happiness Khumalo, said “as a team member, I have learned that while we all have one aim as observers, we have different experiences in different polls. Thanks to the team leaders who are always there to support us. We have learned how to handle different situations from each other. Being an observer helped me to witness what happens during voting processes and this can help IEC to improve the voting service; more importantly, helped me to witness democracy in our country,” Khumalo said.

A political analyst from the University of Limpopo, Dr. Metji Makgoba, said “What is more critical in SA is that we have voter apathy, people saying they won’t vote because they are not benefitting. Those are disgruntled young people who feel abandoned by the political class but instead of voting for other political parties they abstain. Rather than punishing the ANC people feel that they should abstain from voting. The decline will continue because the ANC is failing to unite and contain issues of corruption” said Makgoba.

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Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political and social commentator.

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