On the May 8th 2019, over 27 million people came out to vote in the 5th National Democratic Election in South Africa. Although a lot of doubt was cast about the ruling party’s influence for these elections, many felt this was the last hope for the party, marred by controversy, to pull a convincing victory.

Leading up to the elections, KZN suffered from devastating floods which left thousands displaced and this put the question of climate change into the public consciousness yet again. After all, Day Zero was just over a year ago in Cape Town. Why aren’t political parties taking Climate Change more seriously?

In an effort to get our partners on the ground more engaged, 350Africa.org decided to create a Climate Change Election Guide to start the climate conversation as a part information drive geared to challenge the public on how they decide to vote. This meant meeting representatives of the different political parties and taking to the streets to see if the public would sway their votes based on non-partial information from the Guide about political parties positions regarding climate-related themes.

As a benchmark, we took the IPCC report released in October 2019 and made a comparison with 10 political parties manifestos that were most likely to make an impact in these elections. Our criteria specifically looked at their positions on climate change, water and energy.

The reception from the political parties wasn’t great, as expected.  Even though most of them agreed to receive the guides, they explicitly expressed that they were in no position to make any immediate changes to their energy policies. However, they were willing to keep engaging our groups further after the elections.

In order for us to reach a wider base, we encouraged those on our mailing lists to get in on the action and deliver the guide either personally to their own local representatives on the ground or through emails and even call the political parties directly.

A week before the elections, we jointly hosted a press conference with some of our partners who also had elections work material. The ACRP under Action 24 produced a Climate change scorecard based on the manifestos, Greenpeace Africa who are doing a post-election analysis and COPAC authored a Climate Justice Critique of the political parties.

The press conference was a platform for solidarity between the partners in “holding those in power accountable”.

South Africa’s current Climate state does not paint a good picture.  In the past month, we have seen two cyclones hit our neighbour countries Mozambique and Zimbabwe and KwaZulu Natal province suffered heavy rainfall which resulted in huge floods and deaths. This doesn’t seem to bother our politicians. It’s back to their business as usual after the polls, with promises of endless jobs in an industry(coal) that is dying a slow death and another one(Oil and Gas) which will see us dealing with even more climate-related challenges.

It is clear that more needs to be done moving forward.  We are currently engaged with the 3 top political parties about the guide. We’ve also followed up emails with questioning what their positions on climate change and how they are willing to realistically answer the growing concern of climate change. Hopefully, we will hear from them once the elections hype dies down. More especially,  we want to support our groups on the ground in building on the relationships with political parties and continuing with the conversations they’ve initiated in bringing climate change and fossil fuels as a real concern, until the next elections.

Author: Tshepo Peele, 350.org South Africa Field Organiser