Profile photo of Danish Technological Institute

Technology use in the 2009 South African elections

20. April 2009 – 13:44 by Danish Technological Institute

by Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen, Danish Technological Institute

Much has been reported about the successful campaigning, fund raising and support canvassing by the 2008 Obama election campaign. Still the use of ICT to increase electoral participation, campaigning, consultation and voting is not a uniquely US phenomena. A multitude of eParticipation and eDemocracy initiatives exist. Ranging from eVoting in Estonia’s and Geneva’s national and regional elections, gender budgeting in Freiburg, consultation on local issues in Malmö to the political influence of bloggers in China or in the 2008 election crisis in Kenya. Information communication technology (ICT) in other words plays an increasingly important role in society.

As South Africans go to the polling stations on 22 April 2009, campaigning is being played out in traditional media (TV, radio, print), on the internet, on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, in text messages/sms’s with street banners and in rallies across the country.

A full 173 parties – 134 at national level plus 39 purely provincial parties – are officially registered for the 2009 elections. Of these the four main ones are (alphabetic order):

  • ANC – African National Congress and currently in power with the support, in a tripartite alliance, of the smaller South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)
  • COPE – Congress of the People in 2008 by formed members of the ANC
  • DA – Democratic Alliance and currently the official opposition
  • IFP – Inkatha Freedom Party a mainly regional party centered on the province of KwaZulu-Natal

Each of the main parties makes use of ICT in some form and in variety of ways and degrees. The table below outlines the use of websites and social networks (or Web2.0 technologies).








Yes, congress…



Social networks, party

Yes, Facebook (7823 members)

Yes, Facebook (20910 members), twitter ( , YouTube

Yes, Facebook (20036 members), twitter (, , YouTube

Yes, Facebook (173 members)

Note: URL’s and figures accessed on 19 April 2009

A closer look at the functionalities of different party website is presented in the table below with a number of variations emerge on the degree to which ICT and associated functionalities are utilized.






Join the party





Yes, website, email and sms

Yes, website and email

Yes, website, email and RSS feed

Yes, website and email


Yes, online

Yes, online and sms

Yes, online and sms





Yes, mailing list only




Yes, plus tags/sandbox








Yes, on Facebook not main websites

Yes, four main fora (with sub-topics) administration and information, political debate, watercooler, questions to COPE leaders. Number of topics and contributions given

Yes, one main fora (with sub-topics), number of topics and contributions given, including hot tag/sandbox feature and pooling function on specific issues

Volunteer/Get involved

Yes, on









Includes links to events list, parliamentary caucus, support organizations and parties, party and election manifesto’s, statements etc.

A traditional website using a mix of text and video.

Additional features are available on including links to Facebook, yahoo, Google and Digg

Includes links to Facebook, twitter and YouTube, party and elections manifesto’s, statements etc.

A website using a mix of text and video (incl.

Includes links to Facebook and twitter, party and elections manifesto’s, statements, election candidate lists etc.

A website utilise a relative high degree of video (incl. and ) and mix of online features including RSS feed, blogs (Eye on crime, ANC today, Shedding light), online report crime functionality, links to www.contribute and prime candidate twitter feed on campaign tour, young leaders programme, 12 focused htlm based newsletters, telephone assistance for questions on elections, voter registration or polling stations etc.

A traditional website using a mix of text and cartoons.

Note: Features as accessed on 19 April 2009

The degree of technology use (or non use) by the four main parties in the 2009 South African elections is arguably influenced by two main factors:

  • The core electorate which the individual party aim to canvas
  • The progressiveness of the electoral campaign and those running it

Both factors are interconnected. For one, the core electorate of the ANC and the more regional orientated IFP has since 1994 are considered to be relatively broader then both that of COPE and DA (NB: COPE was only formed in 2008) are at present. This implies that ICT does therefore not constitute the most optimal channel through which to reach their core target groups. The reason for this is that the voting majority does not have access to the internet, never mind to Twitter or Facebook, due to high connectivity costs, dial up or no access ICT, digital literacy and resources. This is the result of limited formal skills, resources and geographical location (e.g. remote rural areas). But also that of close to 50 million South African, according to Rick Joubert, head of Mobile Advertising at Vodacom, only 9.5 million are mobile internet users and an estimated 5 million are desktop users. This is also reflected in the ICT use of the four parties.

While the main parties all have designated party websites, the IFP utilse its website mainly for information provision with next to no online functionality bar basic search function, feedback function and the possibility to join a mailing list. By contract COPE and DA make the most use of online functionalities and links to social networks such as Facebook. Of the ANC, COPE and DA the latter two have the greatest relative presence on social networks. All three parties are officially present on Facebook with COPA and DA having the most ‘friends’ (see table above for figures). In addition both COPE and DA are present on Twitter with the latter having more updates and greater following. While all four parties actively pursue the “middle class” vote, COPE and the DA are considered to have relative greater appeal to these groups (although the DA also has a large regional following in the Western Cape across all socio economic groups). An appeal would also indirectly explain COPE and DA’s greater number of online supporters or ‘friends’ and reflecting the socio-economic context in the country.

The use of mobile telephones is a different aspect of ICT and traditionally utilized less in election campaigns. While the ANC, COPE and DA supporters can all donate money via the party websites interestingly only COPE and DA offers sms based donation. Although ANC supporters cannot donate money via sms they may register to receive news updates by – which COPE and the DA do not offer, although the latter does offer an RSS feed. The emerging use of sms’s and mobile telephony is particularly relevant as this form of technology has far greater penetration in South African society than the internet, online banking or credit cards. A fact also supported by the high penetration of mobile banking in the country and across Africa.

Currently the most innovative use of ICT in the South African election campaign is the DA. In addition to the web features already outlined, the party have maintain a database containing the details of all registered voters plus a mobile telephone database with more the five million numbers for text messaging. Both databases enable the DA to get closer to the individual voter. Not only by locating the individual geographically but by updating the databases with the individual voters affiliation and preferences the party can canvass them more directly. It also allows the party to communication directly with different target groups and individual voters – including in the party’s ‘Get Out The Vote’ (GOTV) campaign styled on the US California Democrat campaign.

The DA also run 12 subject based html newsletters and viral emails on specific topics for various target groups. Added to his is a number of forums (including the Forums supported by a community of bloggers reachable by sms, thus enabling the party through the bloggers to gather support and drive the momentum behind specific DA issues. Online polling on specific issues, a ‘report corruption’ feature, plus Facebook groups, Twitter, are other party initiatives utilizing ICT. The use of technology is possible due to a high degree of party commitment as highlighted by the prime candidate Helen Zille’s campaign trail Twitter and a permanent department of five staff members running the ICT aspects the party and the 2009 election campaign.

Despite the degree of innovation and effective use of ICT by the DA, the party is likely to remain the official opposition party – the ANC having a far greater support base. The results of the 22 April elections are influenced by the historic, political and socio-economic landscape of South Africa but also partially by the penetration of technology and digital skills. The fact the majority of the electorate either has no access to electronic media such as the internet, the skills or resources are therefore important factors. Furthermore ICT in a South African, even a European or North America, context have not yet reach a level of maturity where the effects of technology channels are greater than traditional mediums such as traditional media (TV, radio, print), street banners, door-to-door canvassing and rallies. Still, the use of ICT as illustrated by the DA in particular, does underscore the campaign towards voter education, checks and balances and the necessity of a viable opposition in a democratic South Africa and should therefore be applauded and encouraged.

Republic of South Africa – basic facts

With a population in 2007 of 48.4 million, a GDP per capita of US$ 9673 (purchasing power parity estimated by EIU) and real GDP growth of between 4.4-6% in the last few years South Africa is an African political and economic power and an emerging middle income developing country.

South Africa is a federal state, consisting of a national government and nine provincial governments. The country is a constitutional democracy with a bicameral parliament and an executive president elected by parliament. The 1996 constitution in force since 4 February 1997 is the supreme law of the land and considered one of the most liberal and progressive in the world. The constitution may be changed with a 2/3’s parliamentary majority. The legal system is based on Roman-Dutch law with an independent judiciary including a nine-member Constitutional Court. The constitution provides for an independent corruption watchdog, the public protector, and for independent commissions on human rights, gender equality and the restitution of land rights.

The 400-member National Assembly is elected by proportional representation; the Senate consists of indirectly elected representatives of the nine provinces. Elections must take place every 5 years and is based on a list system of proportional representation based on universal adult suffrage. Elections took place in 1994, 1999, 2004 with the 2009 elections taking place 22 April.

Policy issues include black economic empowerment (BEE), correcting social imbalances and job creation—within the context of fiscal and monetary discipline—having been the main objectives of past economic policy. The consolidation of democratic processes, which dominated the first ten years of ANC rule, has given way to a sharper focus on economic issues—specifically, promoting growth and job creation within the broader context of political and economic transformation and the ‘Africanisation’ of society. Combating HIV/AIDS is, in addition, South Africa’s chief social and economic challenge, as the disease is already having an impact on the health, welfare and education systems, as well as on the economy.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. 6 Responses to “Technology use in the 2009 South African elections”

  2. By Simon Smith on Apr 22, 2009

    The World Service’s Digital Planet programme had a feature on technology and the Indian elections yesterday. Download the podcast (until 28 April) at:
    Moblie technology seems to be very prominent, and hopes were expressed about improving the turnout among young people, We shall see.

  3. By Morten on Apr 23, 2009

    Interesting and thank you for the reference to the Indian elections. Will be intersting to see that mobile technolgy, like cell phones and sms’s in particular, are become increasingly used in developing economies. Truth of the matter is that cell phones have achieved far greater levels of penetration (compared to the internet) across the globe and are getting increasingly effective for networking, organisation (social, professionally, politically), informtion sharing and distribution – and not only among the younger generations but also marginalised communities and groups like rural areas, women, the elderly etc.

  4. By Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen on Apr 23, 2009

    Anna Kelly (a Swedish colleague) point out earlier today (on Facebook) that a number of swedish parties have been inspired by Obama’s 2008 election campaign to make more use of social networks and ICT tools.

    The inspiration comes at a apt time with the European Parliament elections looming on the horizon.

    As with any election the main motivational factor is a wish to canvas the electorate and gain their votes and secondly to bring out the vote. Most Swedish campaign managers point out that social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are particular important in this regard as these are the mediums which have the highest number of users and those the prime focal areas for potential online canvassing.

    For those of you who understand Swedish published an article on the topic:

  5. By Morten Meyerhoff Nielsen on Apr 28, 2009

    An interesting link in connection with the upcoming European Parliament elections is

    The link is to a online solution helping the visitor/user to discover their position on the political landscape in relation to the European Parliament elections 2009.

    Answering 30 questions on a number of issues, their importance and likely support of parties the visitor gets a map of their position vis-a-vis the national parties. The solution also allow the visitor to test their position for all 27 member states and 5 candidate countries.

    The solution is offered in the official languages for a selected country plus english.

    Try it out…

    PS: the solution is developed by Robert Schumann Centre/European University Institute, European Democracy Observatory,, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam,, nccr democracy 21@ and de verdiping Trouwe.

  6. By Morten Meyerhoff on Dec 29, 2011

    An update on Web2.0/social media use in South African politics:

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. Apr 26, 2009: South Africa’s ICT Election

Post a Comment

The PEP-NET Blog uses the gravatar service to display your picture next to comments!