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The ground troops are being armed with T-shirts and leaflets. Social media platforms have mobilised for the aerial battles. Billboards are conscripted like artillery battalions for the coming festival of democracy.

The 30th anniversary of SA’s freedom promises to be an occasion for this rancorous nation to renew its vow to continue to build the democracy Nelson Mandela described as “the common achievement of all humanity”. 

The year 1994 will always be special, even for future generations such as the Tintswalos, made famous in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s opening of parliament speech on February 8. It represented the moment the majority of South Africans and progressives throughout the world had been fighting for, and laid the basis for the finalisation and adoption of the constitution in 1996.

As we approach the May 29 elections all South Africans should use the sacred act of voting to once again commit to the building of the nation. Standing in the queues for the 1994 elections is part of the memory bank that constitutes our national heritage.

This year’s elections will deposit yet another picture in our collective memory: the sheer number of independent candidates and parties standing for election. That will pose several logistical challenges, not least of which will be the size of the ballot form the Election Commission of SA (IEC) will be issuing.

Because of the various levels of voting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where voters had to make choices among the presidential candidates as well as for the national and provincial assemblies and for local authorities, about 100,000 names had to be reflected on the form. “That’s about the size of [population of] the Seychelles”, quipped Denis Kadima Kazadi, president of CENI, the DRC’s electoral commission.

The DRC resorted to an ATM-type arrangement, where voters made their choices as they would at a cash dispensing machine. In our case the IEC has decided to issue a third ballot, apart from that for the national and provincial elections, which will reflect independent candidates for the first time.

The other challenge would be how the various contestants in this battle will indicate where their potential supporters should make the cross to mark their choice. Much is going to depend on the form: will it be one long paper, or will it be a booklet?

This year’s elections have almost 28-million people on the voters’ roll, which polling analyst Wayne Sussman, writing on social media platform X, said might be reason to celebrate. However, he also pointed out that between the previous general election in 2019 and now, the voters roll had expanded by only 3.9%, compared with the 13.7% increase between 1999 and 2004. 

That’s a reason for us to pause and ponder, but not enough to deny the strong and deep democratic traditions we are establishing. The next few steps to May 29 include the inspection of the provisional voters’ roll until March 4, allowing for objections to the inclusion or exclusion of a voter on the roll.

All parties then have until March 8 to submit their lists of candidates. This process will attract much attention because of the jostling to get to the top of the party lists. Given SA’s proportional representation, the higher you are on the list the better your chances of getting into parliament.

Elections are important because they allow all citizens to participate in the process of deciding who we are giving the authority to govern us. In doing so it amplifies the stake citizens have in the nation. Trust is key to the election process as part of accepting the legitimacy of the outcomes.

Indian playback singer and philanthropist Mohit Chauhan captured the importance of the voting ritual when he said: “The one sure way of participating in the process of nation building is to vote on election day.”

• Abba Omar is director of operations at the Mapungubwe Institute.

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