Elections 2024 through an indigenous lens

Empty voting booths as IEC staff waits for ballot papers. Pictures: Independent Newspapers

Empty voting booths as IEC staff waits for ballot papers. Pictures: Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 19, 2024


by |Khaeb

With more than 50 countries holding national elections in 2024, this year draws close attention to the world of politics, as well as to what that means for the future of the individual countries and the whole.

Through an indigenous lens, this makes for added interesting possible strategies and outcomes.

To assist in clarifying the perspective for this piece, it is key to reference the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous peoples. The leading global mechanism on indigenous rights speaks to the right of indigenous peoples to participate in their own sovereignty, as well as that of the state.

For local reference, therefore, we have the right to our own sovereignty as well as all the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.

The importance of the rights of indigenous peoples is understood globally, with relevant policies, laws and actions being implemented to acknowledge and uphold the rights increasing in number across multiple jurisdictions.

What, though, does that mean for this Republic and what role, if any, do the indigenous peoples of these lands play in the upcoming elections?

In order to have a better understanding of the variables that could factor in determining the outcome of the May 29 South African national elections, international cases provide some insightful data.

Noting that the Republic is a key player in geopolitics, it is further interesting to note the influence that the “indigenous card” had and continues to have on the elections.

From the perspective of the Global North and Global South, the Global North provided a relevant example in the past 24 months that played a part in the lead-up to this year of elections in which we now find ourselves.

Leading up to the 2022 Australian Federal Elections, the incumbent prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was clear to play the “card”.

The Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, in him, would find an ally.

The need for constitutional change and his commitment to driving this and other needed actions was highlighted even earlier, as an example, in a 2021 opinion piece by Albanese, published in April 2021 and titled “Indigenous Voice Must Be Heard for Nation to Be Whole”.

Once elected as prime minister, Albanese delivered on his promise to include Aboriginal Peoples. As an example, Linda Burney was appointed as the first Aboriginal to hold the office of Minister for Indigenous Australians, a role established in 1968.

Within the same breath as the Global North and Global South, one can refer to the scenario of the West and BRICS formations. Here, Brazil presents the case of campaign strategies including the indigenous peoples.

Running for his third term, the now incumbent president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, had a focus on one of the main assets in their country, the Amazon rainforest.

Under the administration of the previous president, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation of the rainforest was at an all-time high.

To the indigenous peoples of Brazil, of whom close to a million of them call the rainforest home, on his campaign trail, Da Silva promised that the deforestation would be addressed if he was elected again.

On the international stage, Da Silva further showcased his apparent commitment to indigenous peoples when he attended COP27, which took place after he won the November 2022 elections and before he became president on January 1, 2023.

At COP27, Da Silva was visibly spending time with and engaging the indigenous peoples in attendance.

Once his third term began, Da Silva took the necessary steps to establish the country’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, with Sônia Guajajara honoured to be the department’s first minister.

Noting that South Africa is heavily influenced by the West/Global North, and its position within BRICS, could we see the indigenous factor indeed featuring over the coming weeks as we head to the Republic’s seventh democratic elections?

As we have now returned and landed at the national focus, allow me to provide further insight, through the indigenous lens. The indigenous peoples of Southern Africa not only played a role but featured prominently in an attempt to stop the 2019 national elections in South Africa.

Chantal Revell and the Indigenous First Nation Advocacy South Africa, the second and fourth applicants respectively, represented the indigenous peoples in the “New Nations and Others v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others (CCT110/19)” case.

The case made it to the Constitutional Court a mere six days before the May 8, 2019, elections. However, it was concluded on the day that the matter lacked urgency, and the elections, as we know, went ahead.

When judgment was finally delivered on June 11, 2020, the applicants had found favour in the ruling, resulting in the Electoral Act needing to be amended to cater for the inclusion of independent candidates at the provincial and national elections (previously only provisioned for local elections).

For Revell, this was particularly successful as she, like every other eligible person, could represent her constituency without having to belong to a political party.

Present day, however, does not see any of the indigenous peoples challenging for the seat of the president as an independent candidate. Due to this, we again focus on the political parties contesting, and whether the “indigenous card” features at all in the game.

In the space of the political parties, let us begin with those led by indigenous peoples (so-called coloureds). Looking at parties such as Good, the National Coloured Congress and the PA, or organisations such as the Peoples Movement for Change, not one is openly campaigning to elevate the indigenous cause. Notably, there are indigenous-linked actions being produced by the parties. However, it falls far short of progressive steps such as those on the international stage, as shared above.

It is the three main political parties over the past decade that attention is now given to; namely, the ANC, DA and EFF. The EFF, since its inception, has never really entertained the indigenous cause. Even at this late stage, it is implausible that it will run with an indigenous agenda. The DA, too, is unlikely to take such a path. A key priority of the DA remains to retain power in the Western Cape. With the province hosting the bulk of indigenous peoples in the Republic, the DA has and, sadly, still does its best to stifle the indigenous cause.

When it comes to the ANC, it does get a bit interesting. Since the beginning of February 2024, I was in attendance at two indabas (Mining in Africa, Biodiversity Economy and Investment) where President Cyril Ramaphosa singled out the indigenous peoples.

|Khaeb (Shaun MacDonald).

The use of the term “indigenous peoples” is by no stretch of the imagination mainstream in the Republic, and with the president’s speeches now including it, it provides for some fascinating analysing.

Leading up to this election, however, the newly-formed MK Party has managed to attract plenty of attention. And, when referring to the above-mentioned “card”, the party, led by former president Jacob Zuma, has certainly not hesitated to play it.

Footage can be found on social media that displays Zuma clearly speaking about the to-date exclusion of the indigenous peoples of these lands in the construction and running or the Republic.

According to Zuma, this will be addressed by the MKP should it be in charge politically after May 29.

Locally and internationally, Indigenous peoples and their allies are doing tremendous work to acknowledge our existence, advance our rights and ensure we are included in key political strategies and actions.

The future is indigenous. This upcoming elections in the Republic will provide insight into how quickly the Republic steps into that future.

* |Khaeb (Shaun MacDonald) is an indigenous business leader, and CEO of The Khoeporation (SA’s first Indigenous Strategic Advisory company).

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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