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By Peter Mothiba

It is worth noting that referendums and general elections have always brought fear in the hearts and minds of South Africans since time immemorial.

These fears were always based on concerns that mass violence would erupt in the lead up, the actual and the post voting period.

And these referendums and elections have always been touted by political analysts and experts as watershed moments, the end all or be all, and the most important the country has ever experienced.

In 1960, during the apartheid era, a referendum was held wherein white folks were asked whether the Union of South Africa should become a unified Republic.

The majority of the voters cast their votes in the affirmative and prevailed by 52,9 of the total votes.

This happened amid fears that there would be a backlash should white South Africans who didn’t want to be part of the envisaged new republic lose the referendum.

In 1983 the Tricameral Parliament referendum saw white voters agreeing to the suggestion that Coloureds and Indians would be allowed to be part of the new Parliament and join whites in the decision-making processes of this country, albeit at a limited level and to the continued exclusion of the black majority citizens

The acceptance of the Tricameral Parliament issue by 66% of the white voters didn’t cause any glaring violence and outrage in the white community, but in the Coloured, Black and Indian communities political activists rose in battle against the apartheid government, leading to deaths, injuries and mass detentions without trial.

In 1992 white folks engaged in a referendum yet again, this time to answer “yes” or “no” to the question posed by then President FW De Klerk.

The referendum question was as follows:

“Do you support the continuation of the reform process which the President initiated on 2 February 1990, and which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiations?”

Now political activists engaged in mass demonstrations as usual, this in opposition to the referendum on the basis that it gave only white people an opportunity to decide upon the fate of the much-anticipated constitutional reforms in South Africa.

But those in South Africa who were religiously inclined literally prayed for divine intervention which would lead to white folks voting “yes” in the referendum.

Eventually, 69% of voters voted “yes” amid fears that members of rightwing party, known as “bittereinders” would unleash violence of massive proportions on all black people and white politicians who supported the said the said constitutional reforms. But nothing much happened in this regard.

The first democratic elections of 1994 were also preceded by fears of murder and violence as the country was under the throes of “third force” violence and political murders on the East Rand, Johannesburg and KwaZulu Natal.

South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Chris Hani was also killed in the lead up to the election in April 1993 and his assassination by Polish foreigner Janus Walus worsened racial tensions in the country.

But the 1994 general elections came and went without the feared mass killings.

Perhaps the most peaceful elections which didn’t raise volatile feelings, open animosity, anger and fears of civil war were the ones which took place under former President Thabo Mbeki in 1999 and 2004.

Some of the people that I know didn’t even vote in those elections as they thought there was not much at stake and that everything was honky-dory in the country.

Maybe another factor that may be attributed to voter apathy in the said elections was that some South Africans were simply tired of politics and just wanted whoever was in government to deliver the proverbial fruits of democracy as had been promised for many years up until then.

But anger, hatred, open disdain and fears of a civil war resurfaced again in the 2009 elections, with leader of the then newly formed Congress of The People Terror Lekota going up against Jacob Zuma who had become ANC presidential candidate after he was cleared of rape charges in court and his Arms Deal corruption case was struck off the court’s roll.

The 2014 elections were also contentious with EFF leader Julius Malema pitying his strength against his former party the ANC.

The 2019 elections were equally volatile with the DA, EFF and ANC vying for the votes of the majority of the eligible voters.

Now in 2024 the country finds itself again on the brink of mayhem which might be carried out by those who will eventually lose come voting day on 29 May.

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