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Election awareness a core campaign

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As the representative voice and human rights lobby of South African Jewry, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies’ core mission is proactive and, where necessary, defensive. It promotes and facilitates the community’s participation in the wider society on the one hand, while working to uphold Jewish civil rights and combating antisemitism on the other. Our focus has been on helping the Jewish community to deal positively and constructively with the challenges facing its members as citizens of an evolving democratic society. In this regard, one of the flagship projects we’ve developed over the years and of which we’re very proud is our #MakeUsCount election awareness and education campaign. Through this, we’ve been able to give practical effect to showing the community’s commitment to participating in and contributing to democracy in South Africa.

I’ve already reported on some of the initiatives we’ve run for the upcoming elections. They have included an initial voter-registration drive; working with the relevant South African missions abroad to assist expatriates in casting their ballots; and putting together an interfaith observer team which will assist the Independent Electoral Commission in ensuring that the elections are conducted in a fair manner, as well as providing logistical assistance as needed. Our team comprises more than 100 members from Jewish and other communities, and is spread nationally. On Sunday, 19 May, both our national and Cape branches held successful events in which our community had the opportunity to engage with some of the various competing parties. In Johannesburg, this took the form of an Election Indaba, at which representatives of more than six competing parties had the opportunity of presenting their positions on the core issues of the day, with party tables set up to provide one-on-one discussions after the event. As on previous occasions, the session was expertly co-ordinated by journalist Mandy Wiener, while on this occasion, participants also had the opportunity to learn more about the political landscape from Wayne Sussman, who has emerged in recent years as one of the country’s leading authorities on elections.

In Cape Town, the Cape Board again successfully collaborated with eNCA in holding a televised multi-party debate, in so doing making a meaningful contribution not just to its own constituency’s awareness of the issues around the elections, but the broader society. The premier candidates from the Democratic Alliance, African Democratic Christian Party Western Cape, GOOD, and Freedom Front Plus took part in the event, answering a variety of tough and honest questions from the audience under the lively direction of the host, Dr Onkgopotse JJ Tabane.

A sour note was introduced, unfortunately, by the eleventh hour withdrawal of the African National Congress (ANC). The stated reason was that the event was being held at the South African Jewish Museum. In spite of the ANC spokesperson having confirmed his participation as early as April, on the very day of the debate, the ANC requested a change of venue, and when this wasn’t acceded to, refused to participate. That the ruling party chose to boycott an event because it was being held at a Jewish institution is, as the Cape statement released afterwards put it, both insulting and discriminatory and contradicts our constitutional value of “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. Regardless, our Jewish community will continue to be proud and vocal South Africans, and once again, I call on everyone to ensure that they turn out next week to make their voices count.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.

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