'Most competitive poll ever'

PLEA: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.  19/04/2009. Pic. Unknown.
PLEA: Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. 19/04/2009. Pic. Unknown.

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

Eminent South Africans, including church leaders, believe that tomorrow's election is the most competitive this country has ever had.

The leaders also believe that the campaigning in this year's election has been more robust, "indicating the passion South Africans have for voting".

They also think that this year's election will be free and fair.

"Conditions are such that it is possible to hold free and fair elections on Wednesday," said Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba - who is part of the Eminent Monitoring Network.

The EMN consists of the Anglican, Methodist and Catholic churches and 500 independent election monitors working on the ground.

"Tensions in KwaZulu-Natal appear to have eased significantly," Makgoba said, adding that the levels of political violence, with 40 incidents overall, had been "much lower than expected".

The leaders, however, expressed concern about the report that political party members still used access to resources to force the poor to vote for their parties.

Makgoba urged party leaders to "work harder" to make sure that party supporters "do not use money and power to force the poor and the weak to vote for them".

Flanked by Methodist Bishop Ivan Abrahams and Father Peter John Pearson of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Makgoba said there was "evidence that party activists have used resources and connections to government service providers to deny voters, particularly the poor, their right to choose freely".

EMN researcher Pamela Kambala said people in North West province had even been forced to canvass for a certain party door to door after being threatened that their basic services would be cut off if they refused.

"A free and fair election is not only one in which violence is avoided and parties are allowed to campaign," said Makgoba. "It is equally important that private and public resources not be used to pressure the poor and needy to vote in a certain way."