Everyday issues 'now on election agenda'

18th March 2009 By: Idasa, an African Democracy Institute

The hype and anxiety over next month's elections has seen a rise in everyday issues receiving political treatment and becoming political or election issues, according to an election-monitoring organisation.

But experts warn that this could lead to further political intolerance as the election date approaches and the manipulation of voters by politicians escalates.

The Election Monitoring Network told the Cape Argus it had identified a trend over the past few months for members of the public, politicians and political parties to politicise issues that otherwise would not be political.

These issues ranged from lack of service delivery to regular local community clashes, which were being hijacked either by politicians or ordinary people who manipulated them in a political context.

The network's Derrick Marco gave as an example an incident in which an alleged clash over the closing time of a Khayelitsha shebeen had became an election issue that was being investigated by the Independent Electoral Commission and the police.

The incident, in Enkanini informal settlement in Khayelitsha, led to 28 people being arrested for malicious damage to property, theft and intimidation.

"They've got special patrols in Khayelitsha which went down to close a shebeen that was open until late at night.

"There was resistance, and somehow this ended up being a political issue between Cope and ANC supporters," Marco said.

The difficulty was differentiating between regular and election issues, as the lines were becoming blurred, he said.

Cope lodged a complaint of political violence with the IEC over the issue last week and the ANC was also due to lay a formal complaint with the Independent Complaints Directorate today over the police's handling of the issue.

Pamela Masiko-Kambala, who is also a member of the network's steering committee, said there had been several instances of political intolerance countrywide since October.

She said these ranged from ANC Youth League president Julius Malema's controversial statements to other people politicising issues such as service delivery.

Masiko-Kambala also cited an incident in Khayelitsha this week where a woman was accused by locals of witchcraft and told to leave the area.

She said a political formation and its breakaway faction became involved in the matter.

"While political formations have never been involved or intervened in cases of witchcraft before, now a community issue has seen two political/civic organisations becoming involved.

"People, especially political parties, are manipulating cases, with everything being placed in a political context."

Masiko-Kambala attributed the high levels of anxiety mainly to the emergence of Cope and also to a series of issues including poverty, unemployment and alcohol abuse.

She said most clashes were in black areas, which were mainly targeted by both the ANC and Cope.

These would be closely monitored by her organisation.

"Traditionally, most fights (for votes) are over black areas, which are of great significance to the ANC, but there's uncertainty because of the split (which led to the formation of Cope)."

She said it was easy for politicians to manipulate unemployed people, especially the youth.

The main instigators were political parties, not just ordinary people, said Masiko-Kambala.

Issues such as service delivery also became inflated around this time and were politicised.

Masiko-Kambala said they foresaw more incidents of political intolerance in the Western Cape in the coming weeks, especially in the black townships, although she couldn't say how serious these would be.

By: Andisiwe Makinana

(This article was originally published in The Cape Argus on March 18, 2009)