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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The October 1998 FGR

was carried out in five of the nine provinces and consisted of 23 focus groups representing a spread across gender, age, socio-economic status, level of urbanization and previous participation in voting. A total of eight were either exclusively or predominantly first- time voters.

"Two broad trends characterize the South african electorate at this stage. On the one hand, voters protest the insufficient level of change to their lives. On the other, they have settled inyto the business of elections and democratic representation. They often have highly crutuical assessments of government, but cherish the notions of elections and the electoral poewer afforded to them.

Voters protest the fact 'that so little has changed in their lives. Yet all participants in these groupd, especially black South Africans, acknowledge the value of human rights, human dignity, and political power. These are the victories they hope to consolidate. Elections and voting are the means through which they envisage this consolidationnwill happen.

On the material ans social servants front, not all participants have experienced significant change to their lives. Most have experienced some change, yet these changes often fall short of expectations. Most voters still have hope that that things are to change for them as well (Does this mean that they think more has changed for other peiople than for them? See also the consistency here; both the HSRC poll and the Stellenbosch pollidentify the hope of people for a better future, even though the circumstances of their lives would not appear to warrant such hope.) The vision of 1994 of a better life for all remains fresh in the minds of these voters. The biggest stumbling block is the creation of jobs. (This is the first FGR that specifically identifies jobs as the issue) Urban voters are highly affected by the interaction between unemployment and crime; rural voters are concerned with the breakdown of previous relationships of authority and perceived lessened chances of "ever finding a job".

Unemployment and its effects on society color virtually all views of these focus grops participants. It represents the ultimate litmus test of much of government's actions; it helps define the purpose of elections (how?)

There is evidence of subsiding euphoria and growing realism in the expectations of what elections can achieve. Yet elections remain for most of these voters a symbol of hope. The 1994 election symbolized liberation and victory. The associated voting power for the typical South African voter means that they continue to wield the power to continue changing a stubbornly changing system. There is an ongoing committment to the ANC. The two overriding beliefs among these voters are that the ANC government 'needs more time' and that '1999 has to give government a second chance.'

Voters in the FGR believe that competition among political parties mainly as a means of 'ensuring better performance by the government." They are adamant, however, that democracy does not depend on them switching their votes in order to ensure stronger opposition parties. Democracy is seen as "the right to vote for the party of your choice." In the opinion of the majority, votes for several of the current opposition parties might cause a return to the past. (See the HSRC 1996 survey where almost one-third of respondents did not believe that changing the party in government was a prerequisite for democratic governance)

( The past means different things to blacks and whites. For whites, given their reactions to the TRC, their mean-spiritedness in insisting that since gross violations of human rights were committed by both sides that this somehow "neutralizes" their culpability, their continual denial of any collective responsibility or of the meaning of restorative justice seem incapable of grasping. the sheer scale of the injury they inflicted on blacks. It's as if their imaginations cannot expand to accept what was done in their names, and the naïve belief of their leaders who believe that the "new" generation represented by the New National Party can somehow distant itself from the sins of their fathers to the point where blacks voters will vote from them, without their having to earn that trust on their bended knees, speaks for ever being able to wield real political power because they refuse to acknowledge the nature of their predicament and the fact that it is of their own making.

Thus, for this generation of voters, the possibility of retrogressive change should they switch political parties continues to haunt them. Therefore, the motivation to vote comes ensuring that there is no backsliding, no wayward miscalculation that would result in them finding themselves entrapped in a situation analogous to the past, and that this too will motivate the not to boycott the election of abstain from voting. The liberation party will continue to receive their support, despite the modesty of the gains it has brought to their personal lives. Not to vote for the ANC is to invite regression.

Those voters who say they will not vote are mostly motivated by a sense of disappointment and moderate alienation. They were in a clear minority. For the most part, voters, despite not seeing"full delivery" believe "it is important to continue voting." Even if they just vote to guarantee the right to criticize afterwards.

The biggest obstacle to voter turnout appears to be voter registration. Even in October 1998, when the FGR was carried out, many voters did not understand that if they did not register, they could not vote. Voters believe that the electoral process will be efficiently run, that balloting will be secret, that there will not be violence or intimidation, but they also believe that the optimal system was the one used in 1994 no registration and the choice of voting location.

The major need for voter education relates to first-time voters to stimulate the motivation of the voting act. More experienced, as well a s first time voters have a need for reassurance voter education. They wish to be reminded of the steps in the voting process, especially if these are different than they were in 1994. They prefer visual rather than verbal presentations. They also [refer minimal word usage and clear photographic or drawing presentations.

Voters have a high regard for the IEC. This come s from the spill-over effect of the "miracle" of 1994. IEC is assumed to be able to deliver another miracle.

In contrast to the findings of public opinion polls throughout 1998 (Markinor, IDASA/SABC, Markdata) which consistently found that a large proportion of the South African electorate remained politically uncommitted or uncertain whether they would actually vote in 1999, and concluded that voters wer more likely to abstain from voting in 1999 in contrast to 1994, the October 1998 FRG found that underneath the surface of the "disappointed and disillusioned" South African voter was one " of sophisticated political judgment with a high level of commitment to electoral participation." " Furthermore, these South African voters are determined to use the power to vote to control individual politicians and to ensure that their best interests are being served."

Regarding the mood of the electorate

"Things are both better and worse"

"there is widespread recognition that the government has made inroad and that many people have been beneficiaries. Problems remain. But the memories of an infinitely worse and very racial past remain."

"Voters know that they want more and deserve more. They are prepared to apply their muscle to try to get what they need. Voting and elections have become ingrained in their "political psyches." ( My recollection of the CASE study re local elections is that people were confuse as to why they had to vote again??)

"When participants convert to discussions of specifics, their own communities and their political and human rights positions, few voices accumulate around the 'no change pole of the debate." ( This, too, represents a change from where people were at in August/ September 1994: The when respondents pointed to change, it always took place in some one else's backyard.)

Participants stress that they criticize because they expect better. Even the worst-affected have reports of some, even if minimal, changes and expressions of continuing hope. Even those who insisted that 'nothing had changed' entertained discussions about experiencing more freedom, receiving respect as human beings, having knowledge of some change happening to other people, and of least being listened to when they complain."

( Throughout all these focus groups, perhaps the most recurrent mantra is not that things are not going sufficiently right or that delivery is slow or even non-existent but that they continue to have hope, even when they have little to point to why they should. But if you think about it for a moment, you will realize that they have to have hope for without hope the future would merely loom as a formless litany of miseries, one piled on another, no end to the nightmare of living in sub- subsistence, with no promise of freedom on the horizon, no possible reward for sacrifice, no Mandela, no liberation; that it all had turned out to be a charade. Given that at the moment they have no one else to turn to other tha the ANC, there is a certain desperation to their need to keep hope They have not yet developed to the point of having "alternatives" hence the necessity to keep the faith at all costs, hence the need for the rhetoric of revolution, for enemies, for Third Forces, for the ever-present saboteurs who dream of the old days of domination. In an ironic twist, they cannot fully free themselves until they free themselves of the ANC i.e. until they develop alternatives to the ANC that they can turn to if the ANC cannot fulfill their hopes, to alternatives that offer the fulfillment of hopes the ANC is unable to fulfill. Thus, if the masses hopes are not met, the ANC will split, creating the alternatives that will allow themselves to express full freedom of choice. Today, they do not have that choice; nor will they have it in 1999).

White participants in the FGR were divided in their views of the new South Africa. Most felt that despite severe changes to their lives, many positives had been added (like what?). few would like to return to "life pre 1994" They note the "turning of the tables" in which "anything we complain about is construed as a racial issue. Some grudgingly accept and find fault with the new order.

Of all the participants in these groups, coloured working class participants felt most disempowered. There were few expressions of positive feedback over the last years and few expressions of hope for the future.

Again, foremost in the minds of all participants is "the curse of lack of jobs. "It is the one issue that consistently threatens to overwhelm the sense of progress and achievement since 1994. Some have a sense that however bad the past, at least one had a chance of finding a job."

Many severe criticisms of the new order are in use. Crime, poverty, no respect for human life, fraud and corruption are some of the persevering problems. Corruption, fraud, and disintegration of public service are issues that are much more likely to receive mention from whites and Indians. Nepotism and partial caring for needs was the African angle on the same problem. White voices often were the harshest in the judgments of public service in the country. "Inability," "inefficiency" and "incompetence" were most often the words used in their description of post-1994 South Africa.

(again we are faced with the inability of whites to understand the world which they had occupied for 40 years and the world they were entering. Under the old order, there were 14 departments of everything. Only one set of those departments were allocated solely to white service needs. The amounts spent on these departments were six to nine times higher than expenditures for service delivery to other population groups. Hence whites lived in an exclusive and privileged where the servicing of their needs were the main priority of government. Now they enter a post-apartheid world. All these departments, including those of the TVBC states and the homelands had to be amalgamated into one public service with one department servicing everyone in a particular service area. Besides the huge logistical problems this task involved, there was also the equally formidable task of a redistribution of resources, the application of the principle of equity, and the rationalization of the hundreds of bureaucratic entities that had proliferated over the years with no accountability or control mechanisms in place to weed out the unnecessary, the duplications and the patronage. Whites steadfastly refuse to come to grips with the way their own systems of governance worked in the past; and are therefore incapable of understanding how things work now. Their context for understanding is all skewed).

National, provincial and local government are not always clearly distinguished from each other. Participants have clear but often very abstract notions of what national government does; they are most clear about local government, and most fuzzy about provincial government. While they criticize, their criticisms are tinged with an understanding that the demands on government are enormous, that government needs more time, and that inexperience in office often contribute to mistakes being made.

As regards perceptions of government performance since 1994:

The exercise of time and patience because better performance will come

Pressure and criticism to push government to better performance

Blind hope that government will make things happen

Threat of voting for another party to make government perform better

Despondence because of lack of government performance


"despite their disappointments that democracy did not deliver more, faster, the voters continue in their dreams for a "better life." They commonly agree that a second chance should be given to the existing government to accomplish the better life that they are still dreaming about. There is hardly any perception that government is not trying. The catch-phrase is that government should be trying even harder."

"A number of voices emphasized that the ANC as government has not had all the power it needs to implement required change. They pointed to power-sharing arrangements and opposition parties some Bills that would have addressed some needs. Voters look forward to the time when the ANC will become "the majority party in the real sense" because then there will no longer be delivery problems."

National government receives the most credit, yet is heavily criticized. Many of the criticisms about national government centered o the lack of visibility of MPs. Positive perceptions are most often linked to the persona of Nelson Mandela i.e. Mandela equals the government. A distinction is made between parliament and the government.

Assessment of provincial government is most severe. These governments are seen in many cases "as the most corrupt of them all" as not really having anything meaningful to do, or at best invisible to the ordinary citizen.

(these assessments on the part of the public help to make the case for the ANC's revamping of its processes for selecting the premier of a parliament. If the provincial governments fail so miserably to make the grade, the premier must to a large extent bear a considerable part of the blame)

Group participants have divergent experiences of local government. While in some case, local councilors are seen as people who really make a difference, in the majority of cases, participants see councilors as mostly absent, absorbed in a new life of luxury, given to nepotism Local government is often describe as non existent. Others stress incapacity, alienation, the misuse of funds and corruption. Among the most typical responses: "The problem with local councilors is that they do their work on a part time basis;" "They cater to their own needs;" "They are doing nothing for us."

More important, irrespective of the sphere of government, voters often feel neglected and forgotten. They want to learn more about what government has done in the post 1994 era. They want to see their elected representatives and ascertain what they have been doing. The FRG analysts conclude that "the 'rhetoric of forgotten promises' is being used to taunt the politicians into dialogue with local communities," and in so doing "force" their representatives into doing a better job.

(What leverage do they have? If this interpretation is correct, it is rather a sad commentary on the degree to which MPs keep in touch with their 'constituents' and the fault-lines of the party PR system. Again, if people want choices, the Alliance will have to split)

Regarding Life in the Community

When people talk about in their communities, "their dreams, and patience sometimes begin to wear thin. Almost all groups relate experiences of reconstruction and change since 1994, although often accompanied by tales of decay and disintegration. "These positive experiences sometimes are also fragmentary and dwarfed by greater need' Some participants struggled to come up with much that they loiked or appreciated in their communities." While participants "concede" that the changes for the better that have happened are fine, they also make it clear that they need and expect much more. Especially galling is their perception that now that there are some services available, they do not have the jobs to pay for them. In many communities, there is still an absence of running water, electricity, and a small number of toilets have to serve a whole informal settlement. Physical hardship is amplified by unemployment, the absence of job prospects result in increases in crime and social decay. The elder people had little hope for their children or for the youth in their communities. The young wanted to taste the "good life" or had trouble finding "good' role models they could identify with.


"Election 1994 continues to mean liberation, freedom , and dignity to the bulk of South African voters. Even if the post1994 epoch is displaying cavities, this experience of democracy far outshines the preceding oppressive system.

"The participants were people who revere in their experience of elections and their power as individual voters. But they were burdened by severe unemployment, and this experience to threaten life in the new democracy. "It is with regard to the immediate economic situation (with implications for worsening crime) that participants sometimes retract into "life was better before."

When participants are asked what image s spring into their minds when they hear the word elections, a "rich and overwhelmingly positive tapestry" springs to mind. Change, democracy, freedom, new government, a government for all people, a way of bettering our lives, to forgive and forget, to unite are some of the images. But above all, one word stands out: expectations.

In KwaZulu/Natal, intimidation, killings, corruption.

Among black voters, the 1994 elections remain intertwined with the end of white oppression. The rationality of voters' current assessments of elections extends into the recognition that this victory still needs to be consolidated, and that the party of the majority's trust, the ANC, needs to be supported to continue the pursuit of "the better life." Hence a considerable part of electoral sentiment is motivated by considerations of "stopping whites from returning to power" The 1999 election, they argue will bring them one step closer to the better life. In a general kind of way, hope and elections have become equated with finding employment.

"Despite their disappointments, and without 1999 election promises from political parties, the human nature of these voters, compel them alraedy to link the 1999 elections to hope for change in their lives. It is the only instrument at their disposal, the only way in which they can reach out to government structures and resources."

(This in a kernel is it. Entering 1999,blacks have no option but to hope that somehow the ANC can get its act together after the next election. Despite all their disappointments, they are willing to give the ANC the benefit of the doubt? What, after all, alternatives do they have? The ANC is not about to split? The opposition parties are seen as ineffectual, left-overs of the past, proponents of white privilege, obstacles to change, part of the problem in so far as they obstruct transformation, white i.e. irrevocably associated with the past who would, if they had their way, reintroduce many of the "trimmings" of the past. Hence the tenor of Mandela's speech in Mafeking, of Mbeki's "Two Nations" address, of refuge in the African Renaissance. Without hope there is only despair.

Two major considerations account for the South African voter's dedication to the act of voting. There is a strong sense of the individual voter's power of efficacy of the power of the individual voter's to make an impact or to be listened to. Second, the typical voter is driven by the need to see the job of political and social liberation completed.

( "Need" here should be interpreted in the broader sense it almost amounts to a compelling necessity. Otherwise the struggle for liberation will have been one big lie)

Thus, the typical voter who emerges from this FGR argues that the ANC, flaws ans all, needs continuous support in order to make the dream of a better life become fulfilled. The voter's motivation is both technical and emotive. The ANC remains linked with liberation and the associated rights and dignities. The ANC is also seen as the party closest to the interests of the average voter. On a technical level, the typical voter sees the Anc as trying, has made a head start in the process of change, and insufficient as that progress might be, there is no sense in abstaining or considering a change in party besides, to whom does one change? There is virtually no passive sense of voting "because of duty to vote."

Other considerations

Ø. "More time is needed.

Ø. "four versus forty years"

Ø. Agreement that corruption has taken a toll

Ø. 1999 as a "second chance election" for the ANC. Given the two realities of disappointment with the ANC's performance and the belief that opposition parties do not really have the average black voter's interests in mind, abstentionism is to be avoided. Votes are determined to hold the ANC government to the promises it perceived it to have made in 1994, given that they do not see another credible contender for power.

"Disappointments with politicians and their often low ability to deliver with greater speed only minimally detract from voters' belief in voting."

"Embedded in the belief in elections as a tool for change is both the belief in pressurizing the governing party to make true on 'promises' and the recognition that elections are the tool to change government if so desired.

(Replace with what? With whom?)

Multiparty democracy

Voters welcome the participation of opposition parties, especially if they seem to pose a threat to the ANC and are therefore likely to make the ANC try harder. They want to make the ANC work for their votes. They do not want their loyalty taken for granted. But because the ANC now has experience in government, voters see the improved prospect of an ANC government making a difference in their lives. Current opposition parties are not trusted. Voters do not buy the argument that the evolution of multiparty depends on voting for the opposition opposition parties should have every right to exist and be free to make their cases to the electorate, but democracy means being free to be able to vote for whom you want to.

Besides, attitudes to opposition parties are coloured by where they stood in relation to apartheid. Forces of the former order need to be stopped from returning to power.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.