OPINION – Apathy, Unsolicited Texts and the Real Overseas Figures
The response to this year’s general elections from South Africans living abroad has been, in a word, underwhelming. As reported by SAPeople this morning the authorities have hardly gone out of their way to make it easy for its far flung citizenry to exercise their democratic rights and this may be partly responsible for the […]
The response to this year’s general elections from South Africans living abroad has been, in a word, underwhelming.
As reported by SAPeople this morning the authorities have hardly gone out of their way to make it easy for its far flung citizenry to exercise their democratic rights and this may be partly responsible for the low number of people who have said they will be making their mark.
But, let’s be honest, it is not as if there is a great deal of enthusiasm for the whole thing. There is widespread apathy amongst voters. My South African neighbour shrugged and looked at me as if I were mad when I asked him if he and his wife were voting. “Why bother?” was his response.
Common theories have it that the reason the government is doing so little to encourage foreign citizens to make their mark is that it believes the expat community overwhelmingly supports the opposition DA. This is certainly not the case in my very unscientific straw poll of friends but I am prepared to stand corrected when the votes are all tallied up.
However, if it is true that this is a captive audience for the DA, then the party has scored a massive own goal with its unsolicited text message and phone calls imploring people to vote on Wednesday. This seemed to annoy the people who got the message as they can only vote if they registered back in March, and by registering they were indicating their intention to do just that. They didn’t need reminding.
Craig Kinsman, one of SAPeople’s facebook followers, is fuming. “I am very displeased with the DA. Not for politics but for total infringement of privacy,” he raged.
“I completed my VEC10 form online and gave some details I usually don’t give anyone – like my cellphone abroad. However a few days ago I got an SMS telling me to vote (stupid since that is why I did all this – to vote). I asked both the DA and IEC how the DA got this info. IEC says they don’t give telephone numbers – only the name and location.
“DA gives the same garbage that call center agents do – [that they got the phone numbers from] a national consumer database – which is something that does not really exist. They called me today and when I confronted them, again they try to bulltwang me. They eventually hung up.”
There are no accurate statistics about how many eligible voters there are outside South Africa’s borders, but the fact that less than 27 000 people registered to vote abroad shows how apathetic foreign-based South Africans generally are.
But how many potential voters are there? It is hard to say with any degree of certainty but a 2012 article on website Politicsweb cited OECD data from 19 countries that keep this sort of data. As the table on the right shows, in 2010 at least 588 388 individuals in these countries were recorded as having been born in South Africa. It said that the real figure is likely to be higher than that as the figures for Canada and New Zealand date from 2006 and since then there have been further documented inflows of South African-born migrants.
The countries with the highest numbers of individuals born in South Africa are the United Kingdom, Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada. These figures do not, obviously, include children born to South African born parents overseas, some of whom should now be eligible to vote.
Work done by the South African Institute of Race Relations in 2006 estimated – by comparing the figures in Stats SA household surveys from 1995 and 2005 (as well as analysing other data) – that 841 000 white South Africans had left the country in that period. Many emigrants, like my neighbour mentioned above, are not white which immediately means that this is a potentially massive under-recording of the number of expats.
Given these hundreds of thousands of of potential voters, the fact that just over 26 000 (this writer included) have decided to vote is shocking, especially when you consider how many foreign resident South Africans have so much to say about the country and how it is run on popular news websites and social media.
One would think that they would want to express their strongly held views in a forum that matters rather than simply spewing vitriol across the ether.