South Africa’s much anticipated local government elections are now just a few days away. As in previous years, the Board has run a multifaceted ‘Make Us Count’ awareness and educational project to involve our Jewish community in the process. First launched for the national elections in 2009, and revived again for the 2014 elections, the Make Us Count 2016 campaign has been our first for local and municipal elections. It kicked off in April with a drive to get our community registered with their correct details on the voters roll. It was followed up by two lively pre-election debates in Johannesburg and Cape Town, where high-level representatives from the various political parties shared what they stood for and engaged with the Jewish community on issues of interest.
The campaign, as in 2014, will culminate in the participation of a multi-faith and multi-ethnic Election Observer Team, which the Board, through Alana Baranov, has put together to assist the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on polling day. In 2014, our team comprised nearly 100 volunteers from across the religious, ethnic and national spectrum. These monitored events at over 250 voting stations in five cities across three provinces, and further assisted by supervising the delivery of ballot boxes and opening of the polls, helping to resolve problems at polling stations and ensuring that counting began on time.
We were pleasantly surprised that our call for volunteers brought many of our 2014 observers back, as well as scores more individuals signing up to make an active contribution to democracy on the day. Once again, we have members of the Jewish community from the various centres, as well as people of various nationalities and faiths and volunteers from the refugee and asylum seeker community. They are attending the IEC election observer briefings around the country and we are setting up channels of communication on the day so that our team can report-back any issues or problems and relay them as quickly as possible to the IEC.
Those charged with monitoring the elections to ensure that they are free and fair have a major responsibility, and the indications, unfortunately, are that they may have an even more crucial role to play this time round. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a disturbing rise in incidents of politically-related violence, in several cases involving loss of life. We hope and pray that when the time comes, the overwhelmingly peaceful manner in which previous elections have been conducted since the transition to democracy will again be the order of the day.
In closing, I urge once more that every member of our community who is able to vote ensure that they do so. We are truly fortunate as South Africans to be able to have a say in our political leadership and the ability to vote, an act for which countless South Africans devoted – and in many cases sacrificed - their lives to achieve. It is not only a privilege but a solemn responsibility that we must honour.