RUNDU – Millions of people in southern Africa will be going to the polls to elect governments, which they think will meet their aspirations as five of the fifteen SADC-member states prepare to hold national elections this year.
South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia, will hold national elections this year. Arguably the most peaceful region on the continent, the attention of the international community will descend on SADC to see how the region handles its national electoral processes. Customary to election campaigns, ruling parties will use their success stories to lure the electorate, while on the other hand, the opposition parties will pinpoint the shortcomings and failures of the ruling parties to sway potential voters to their stable.
At 20, South Africa is one of the youngest democracies on the continent. South Africa will be the first to hold elections this year when the people of that country go to the polls to vote for a government of their choice. Like many former liberation movements, the popular ANC, enjoys the privilege of being the founding party of a democratic South Africa, hence people tend to be loyal to the party regardless of who the candidates might be. With the establishment of several parties such as Agang SA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) under the respective leadership of Dr Mamphele Rampele and the outspoken Julius Malema, ANC’s election ammunition will be tested to the core. The century-old party did not have an easy fifth term in office following allegations of poor service delivery and governance, corruption and the unequal distribution of resources, which led to widespread popular discontent. Controversies such as the Marikana killings in 2012 and the Nkandla saga may prove to be the greatest threats to its power base. Opposition political parties are using these national scandals to lure the electorate to their stables.
In 2012, members of the South African Police Service opened fire on a group of strikers, killing 34 and wounding 78 people in the process. The widely condemned shooting spree was the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, during which 69 civilians were shot dead by the police. Although President Jacob Zuma was cleared of charges of abusing over N$200 million of state money to upgrade his private residence in Nkandla, millions of poverty-stricken South Africans feel the money could have been used for a better cause. After the Nkandla upgrade became public, Zuma lost popularity and was even bood and jeered while addressing mourners in December during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
The country will mark its 50th anniversary in July, just a month after Malawians have gone to the polls. Many eyes are zeroed on SADC’s only female president, Joyce Banda, to see whether she can hold onto power. Banda took office as president following the sudden death of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika. She also served as the country’s first female vice-president. Her party, People’s Party, was formed in 2011 after she was expelled from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, when she refused to endorse President Mutharika’s younger brother Peter Mutharika as the successor to the presidency for this year’s elections. Banda will have to shake off the ‘Capital Hill Cashgate Scandal’ in which she is implicated, to hold on to power.
During the scandal, it was alleged that billions of kwacha’s were looted from Capital Hill, the seat of the Malawian government, at the expense of the masses.
The scandal started when an Accounts Assistant in the Ministry of Environment was found with huge amounts of money far exceeding his legitimate monthly income. President Banda was also implicated in the scandal after claims surfaced that some money was allegedly channeled to her.
Nonetheless, Banda has seen her popularity skyrocketing in Malawi in late 2012 when she dissolved her entire cabinet amid allegations that senior government officials embezzled millions of state money.
Media reports suggest that Banda admitted that she took a “political risk” in launching a major fight against corruption in May. “The fight against corruption must come first, winning the elections comes second to me,” she reportedly said.
As elections loom for Botswana, a country seen by many as the epitome of stability, political parties looking to garner the most votes will have to convince the populace that they have the ammunition to fight unemployment, which the incumbent government has been struggling to contain.
People in that country will go to the polls in October, just a month after the country’s 48th independence anniversary. The country’s unemployment rate now stands at 17 percent despite a growing economy. Being the largest producer of diamonds, the Botswana Democratic Party-led government is trying by all means to reduce its over reliance on diamonds by diversifying the economy to the tourism and agriculture sectors. President Seretse Khama Ian Khama, a professional pilot, is expected to endure stress-
free elections mainly because the country’s opposition parties and the local unions are seriously divided. Khama will be looking to head the country for another five-year term after taking office in 2008 when he succeeded Festus Mogae. Like the ANC, Khama’s party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) will be the party of choice for most voters, because it is credited with bringing an end to colonialism in Botswana. The BDP has been in power, uninterrupted, since the country gained its independence in 1966.
Dubbed the tourist Mecca of SADC due to its booming tourism industry, Mozambicans will head to the polls and incumbent President Armando Guebuza has made it clear that he will not be up for re-election. Mozambicans will celebrate their country’s 39th independence anniversary in June and head to the polls in October. Frelimo’s Guebuza became the Mozambican president when he succeeded Joaquim Chissano in 2004.
Economist say the tense political situation in the country threatens the country’s booming tourism industry and more so international investors. The government will be hoping that last year’s armed clashes between Renamo and Frelimo in the central and northern parts of the country do not re-emerge during the polls later this year. Although the numbers of the Renamo camp have declined drastically, experts in that country say their location is of greatest concern. They enjoy significant support in the Sofala province, which is in the middle of major railway lines linking mines in Mozambique and southern Africa with the port city of Beira.
Should the rebels destroy major railway lines, the country could see a drastic decline in goods being imported and exported by rail, which could eventually lead to the crippling of the national economy as a whole. Unconfirmed media reports claim that the Mozambican government is secretly paying Renamo rebels to keep them from destroying the railway lines in the Sofala province. As for the “Green Revolution” the government has promised, President Guebuza said some progress has been made, but not enough. He was particularly concerned at the continuing long delays in granting farmers title to their land.
President Guebuza is particularly popular among farmers and has called on his government to work out means to speed up the granting of land titles and to increase the number of farmers who have formal title to their land. Media reports suggest that the ruling party is yet to choose a candidate to replace Guebuza, a situation which clearly indicates that finding a successor is giving the party sleepless nights.
The country will celebrate its 24th independence anniversary this year, the same year in which all eligible Namibians will go to the polls in November during the country’s sixth national elections.
With victory all but a formality, the country’s much-vaunted ruling Swapo Party will be more concerned with obtaining a two-thirds majority. During the national elections in 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, the Swapo Party has been the party of choice for most Namibians and this trend is not expected to change in 2014.
Like the ANC, the Swapo Party played a pivotal role when it came to ending colonialism and ushering in the first ever democratic government in Namibia. The ruling party’s biggest challengers during the last elections, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), have over the years lost the spark with which they broke onto the political scene, because of internal power struggles, and most local political analysts predict that the former apartheid-linked Democratic Turnhalle Alliance will reclaim its official opposition status which it surrendered to the RDP in 2009. The Swapo Party-led government has managed to maintain peace and stability since coming to power, a situation which is definitely in its favour and for which the government has received praise locally and internationally. President Hifikepunye Pohamba, who in November will complete his second and final term in office, has already passed on the party’s baton to vice president, Dr Hage Geingob.
With the overwhelming support the party enjoys in the country, Geingob will surely be the elephant in the election jungle come November. It is an open secret that the incumbent government continues to endure sleepless nights due to the high unemployment rate amongst its citizens, and the ongoing low implementation rate of capital projects meant to create jobs by state agencies is not helping the situation either.
Most opposition parties in the country have decided not to form coalitions, a decision which could come back to haunt them.
By Mathias Haufiku