Art: Jack Forbes /Courtesy -CPJ

Mar 4 2019 – South Africa, one of the media freedom beacons in sub-Saharan Africa, will hold national and provincial elections on May 8. As the country celebrates 25 years of democracy, the press in South Africa faces old and new challenges, including physical harassment and cyber bullying. The press freedom environment, including the safety of journalists, will be one of the key indicators for the health of the country’s democracy and the freeness and fairness of its polls.

Editor’s Note: On May 8 South Africans will go to the polls to elect parliamentarians and provincial legislators in the country’s General Elections. In this analysis, Uniqua Smith gives us a preview of the elections by taking a look at the major parties involved, the issues on the ballot, as well as how the election is being framed by the media.   


In South Africa the President is elected by the National Assembly through a process of proportional representation.

How the Elections Are Viewed by the Media

Africa.com, a South Africa-based website has listed the upcoming elections as 4th in its Top 10 Most important Presidential Elections in Africa This Year. The site states that “This election is an opportunity for president Cyril Ramaphosa to legitimize his power through the popular vote.”  Technically speaking, South Africa has a parliamentary system of government, which means citizens will be electing 400 new members of Parliament, and the popular vote will come from it’s constituents.

The Africa Report, a monthly magazine that focuses on African politics and economics, thinks the election is a referendum on the Reformist Policies of current President Cyril Ramaphosa, and that may not be far from the truth. While citizens are casting votes for their new legislative body, the subtext of the election will be weighting in on whether or not incumbent leader Ramaphosa has successfully ran the country following the resignation of former President Jacob Zuma.

Who Are The Major Players

There are 3 major political parties involved: The African National Congress (ANC), The Democratic Alliance (DA), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The ANC is the party of incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, the DA is the main opposition party to the ANC, and the EFF a far-left political party founded by Julius Malema in 2013.

The African National Congress -ANC 

The ANC is the party of current President Ramaphosa, and of the late Nelson Mandela. The ANC has been the governing party since it facilitated the abolishment of Apartheid in South Africa in 1994 through the help of Nelson Mandela.

The U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) says the ANC is tarnished by corruption and poor governance, and Al Jazeera, the Doha, Qater-based television network is reporting a decline in the popularity of the party post-Zuma. Jacob Zuma is the former South African leader who was implicated in charges of corrupted and later forced to resign in February, 2018.

Bloomberg.com meanwhile is painting a different picture of the party all together. Bloomberg.com says the ANC has been making headlines for taking on The Central Bank. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC News) says Ramaphosa is closely being scrutinized for his land reform policies– redistributing white-owned agricultural land to black South African farmers without compensation and without apology. The land reform laws were enacted at the abolition of apartheid in 1994, and are yet to be enforced. According to the Heritage Foundation, Ramaphosa’s reformist policies are more akin to enforcement policies.

Many South African news websites sites are reporting on the polarization and division being created U.S President, Donald Trump. They cited propaganda and false rhetoric Trump made about the slaughter of White Farmers and his tweets which they have denounced.

The Democratic Alliance -DA 

Lead by Mmusi Maimane, one of the first issues mentioned by the party is the imposition of a mandatory jail sentence of 15 years for anyone caught in corruption.

The DA’s current slogan is “Break Through the Media Lens”. On the front page of its website, readers are implored to read the Manifesto for Change for themselves- perhaps hinting at the fact that the media has been portraying either the elections or the DA party in an unnatural light. The section entitled “How We’ll Get Things Done” pinpoints hot topic issues, as well as how the party proposes to improve common problems.

The Economic Freedom Fighters -EFF 

According to the EFF’s own publication, “The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a radical and militant economic emancipation movement, formed in 2013 with the aim of bringing together revolutionary, militant activists, community-based organizations as well as lobby groups under the umbrella of a political party pursuing the struggle of economic emancipation.

Founded and led by Julius Malema, the EFF is another party which has been highly criticized by the Council on Foreign Relations. The description of the EFF as an “enfant terrible” may be well suited because of the harsh rhetoric of its leader, and tough political stance the party often employs in its activities.

The EFF has taken a stand on 7 major pillars of Economic Emancipation, and has even issued a freedom charter, including the expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use, the nationalization of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation, as well as the building of state and government capacity, which it says will lead to the abolishment of tenders.