May 8th 2019, marked the 5th National Democratic Election in South Africa and over 27 million people came out to vote and hand the ANC (African National Congress) their 5th straight victory at the polls. These elections had a number of issues that needed to be brought forward and Climate Change was one of them.

As we decided to create a Climate Change election guide in an effort to get our partners on the ground more engaged but also to start the climate conversation before the elections and hear what people thought about it and if they would sway their votes based on political parties positions on some climate related themes. We took the IPCC report from last year October and 10 political parties that we thought were most likely to make an impact in these elections and looked at their manifestos, specifically their positions on climate change, water and energy. We created a non-partisan guide with all these details and had our partners on the ground go to local political party offices and engage them on their positions as per their manifestos and possibly have a specific ask that they created themselves to see if that may make a difference in their communities.

The reception on the ground from the political parties was not great even though most of them agreed to receive the guides, they were not in a position to make any immediate changes, however, were willing to keep engaging our groups further after the elections. We also had a call to action online to get our mailing lists involved in delivering the guide whether personally on the ground or through emails and even call the political parties directly.

We had a press conference with some of our partners who were also working on their own elections work, The ACRP who did a Climate change scorecard based on the manifestos, Greenpeace Africa who are doing a post election analysis and COPAC who created a Climate Justice Critique of the political parties. The press conference was intended to show solidarity between the partners and show that we had all had one message which is “holding those in power accountable”.

South Africa’s current Climate state does not paint a good picture given that in the past month we have seen two cyclones hit our neighbour countries Mozambique and Zimbabwe and the fact that we also had some heavy rains in the KwaZulu Natal province which resulted in huge floods and deaths. This however does not seem to bother the our politicians much as they march straight back to their business as usual stance after the polls while still promising endless jobs in an industry(coal) that is dying a slow death and another one(Oil and Gas) which will see even more climate related challenges head directly towards our shores.

It is clear at this point that more needs to be done moving forward, so we have engaged the 3 top political parties with the guides and follow up emails with questions regarding their positions on climate change as per their manifestos and are hoping to hear back from them once the elections fire dies out and we are also looking to see how our groups on the ground carry on the conversations with the relationships they have built with the political parties.

Author: Tshepo Peele, South Africa Field Organiser