OpinionWorld News

South Africans in Israel must register to vote

We have a chance to change a troubled country for the better.

Map of South Africa. Image: Wead/Shutterstock
Map of South Africa. Image: Wead/Shutterstock
Leanne Stillerman Zabow. Credit: Courtesy.
Leanne Zabow
Leanne Zabow is a clinical psychologist born in South Africa and currently living in Ra'anana, Israel.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that the country’s next national election will take place on May 29, 2024. Will you, fellow South Africans abroad, go out and vote?

You should. This election is likely to be a historic one. It may have a paradigm-changing outcome and will highlight profoundly important domestic and foreign policy issues. For Jews and South Africans living in Israel, the current government’s hostility to Israel is particularly relevant.   

Unfortunately, absentee voting in Israel may prove difficult if not impossible. The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) recently announced the Department of International Relations & Cooperation’s temporary closure of its missions in Israel, South Sudan and Ukraine, citing security concerns. Nonetheless, the IEC is encouraging South Africans living in these countries to register to vote online, although it is not yet clear how they will vote on election day.

When I left South Africa for Israel, I took my South African identity with me. I could not turn away from the country that shaped who I am and my unique identity as a South African Jew. I and many of my friends and family lived through momentous times. We witnessed South Africa’s transition to democracy and held up our new constitution and bill of rights as shining examples to the world. There was much hope for a new era of coexistence founded on the principles and ideals embodied in these documents.

Many South Africans now feel our dream is slipping away. A quagmire of corruption, self-interest and mismanagement has taken its toll on South Africa, leaving millions robbed of the prospect of a better future. Even the most starry-eyed patriots have grappled with the specter of despair.

The upcoming election will be historic. Polls predict that the African National Congress, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid, stands to lose its majority, which has always been taken for granted. It appears that the ANC will be held accountable for failing the people of South Africa and the power to ensure accountability lies with the voter.

Most distressing to Jewish South Africans is that the ANC is likely to exploit its success in hauling Israel before the International Court of Justice—though the result was a stinging defeat for the ANC—as a selling point to would-be voters. It will claim to have succeeded where other nations failed, restoring South Africa’s status as a global champion of human rights. It is not clear whether this desperate distraction from the ANC’s domestic failures will work.

Those of us who identify with both Israel and South Africa are deeply saddened by the crisis in relations between our two countries, expressed by such things as the cancellation of the El Al route to South Africa. So much has already been lost in the trauma of war and many of us would like to see this relationship restored.     

In the aftermath of the ICJ proceedings, I felt as if my South Africa had been stolen from me. But the upcoming election reminds us that South Africa and its government need not be one and the same. South Africa is a democracy and it is in our hands as citizens and voters to advance our shared vision for the country and for a better world.

Local opposition parties are lobbying the IEC to make voting abroad more user friendly and accessible. South African Jewish organizations are calling on South Africans living abroad—in Israel and elsewhere—to register to vote online. In the past, South African Jewish organizations have worked with the IEC to ensure the right to vote for expatriate citizens. They need as many of us as possible to register in order to demonstrate that there is a critical mass of voters in Israel and South African Jewish communities elsewhere. This will prompt the IEC to make in-person voting facilities available in these communities. The South African Zionist Federation is encouraging those who intend to use their absentee vote to join the Call to Action on their website.

The window for registration, however, will close soon. Let us embrace the opportunity for tikvah in a future South Africa despite and in defiance of its current failings. We must do our part to honor what South Africa has given us and the greatness it could achieve.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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