Political Parties Must Pledge to Promote Free Campaigning for Polls

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Brigalia Bam

Fourteen years ago, hundreds of South Africans took to the streets in jubilation over the demise of apartheid and the results of our first multiracial election to bring democracy to our country for the very first time.

No one pondered whether we as a nation were prepared for a democratic system of government, and whether the transition to democracy would be successfully consolidated.

In other words, were we prepared to tolerate our political opponents? Did our country have the necessary ingredients that would support a smooth transition to, and consolidation of, a democracy?

Inspired and spurred on by then President Nelson Mandela's dream of a "multiracial, democratic and tolerant South Africa", we became the envy of the world, particularly because we bore all the characteristics (poverty, hunger, disease, economic inequality, racial and ethnic cleavages) typical of failed democratic transitions.

Parties are already campaigning even though the date of the elections has not yet been proclaimed. As we embark on election campaigns ahead of next year's election, we would do well to remind ourselves that our country needs a good deal of "pleasantness", and attempt to have a civil discussion on the issues, even though there are great disagreements about those issues and the possible solutions to our problems.

Negative campaigning, smears and innuendos and populist slogans create an atmosphere that does not easily allow for a true debate of programmes and policies.

That is why we at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) have organised our first Pre-Election Conference, to be held in Durban tomorrow.

We believe there are many more conferences to come. All political parties, as well as institutions such as the Human Rights Commission, Commission for Gender Equality, South African Police Service, Department of Defence and the National Intelligence Agency, non-governmental and faith-based organisations have been invited to attend, to discuss and to strategise on the obligation of all stakeholders to create an environment that is conducive to the holding of free and fair elections.

We are aware that the ability and willingness of South Africans, irrespective of race, gender, religion and political affiliation, to co-operate and work with one another is not only important, but crucial to the success of their nascent democracy.

If democracy is to succeed, all South Africans must be willing not only to openly debate with their political opponents, but also to accommodate their political views. …