South Africa: Election Violence – Should South Africa Be Worried?

In the last couple of weeks, South Africa’s major political parties have begun publishing their manifestos and candidate lists and positioning themselves for the municipal elections set for 3 August. At the same time, protests against the economic and political situation have continued across the country.

The increase in protests – combined with a history of violence, structural inequality and growing frustration with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – leads many to question whether South Africa would maintain its tradition of peaceful elections in August.

Apart from some threatening behaviour directed at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) during the national elections of 2014, election violence does not have deep roots in South Africa. That said, protest has become a part of daily life, increasing since 2010 (see Figure 1). These protests are linked to service delivery, demarcation, labour, university fees and staffing – and, since last year, protests directly calling for the resignation of President Jacob Zuma.

The mobilisation of protest and its coverage are increasingly politicised. The South African Broadcasting Commission (SABC) recently announced that it will no longer air stories about violent protest, with the intent to reduce publicity of the perpetrators and instigators. This decision provoked widespread criticism, with many saying it amounted to outright censorship. Although there can be little doubt that a copycat effect exists and that scenes of violence and outrage may serve to instigate the same elsewhere, social media can readily bypass efforts at media control.