The African national Congress (ANC) ran an election campaign that has been described as “slick, cool and clever”, resulting in it winning 66% of the South African vote and the closest rival on 17%.
Indeed, we were expecting nothing less after the Barack Obama campaign that captured the heart of American voters and the world. There are suggestions that the ANC borrowed features from the Obama Campaign.
So what did the ANC do that was different? One thing was to use cyberspace to effectively go after the youth vote. Young people in South Africa’s political speak, are under 40 years old.
“Because we live in a world where cyberspace is used by millions of potential voters, we could not leave that space unattended. This is why we set up a massive communication centre, which we used to communicate our message to those who are connected to the web” said an election manager quoted in the Sunday Times newspaper.
Virtually all the political parties contesting the election had a web presence however; the ANC was the most visible.
No, the parties did not use the internet to aggressively solicit donations- although the option to make donations was available. Voters could among others, receive email newsletters, participate in discussions on face book and other sites, chat with political party representatives, and download election theme songs onto their mobile phones.
I must add that beside the web, the ANC hosted parties with plenty of barbecued meat, celebrity personalities, luxury cars, wine and beer and music and dance- a surefire way of grabbing the attention of the upwardly mobile sector of society.
The Independent Electoral Commission that managed the elections had a website where voters could check if they were registered to vote. They could also do the same by mobile phone. A section of the website was devoted to explaining the process to first time voters.
Another interesting site was the vote2009.co.za where visitors could match their views on prominent issues with the parties’ manifestos, to help them decide on which party to vote for. Issues sampled included HIV/AIDS, healthcare, education, crime, the death penalty and poverty.
So did this work and will the web feature prominently in the election campaigns of other African countries?
Time will tell and as the analysts do the maths and tell us how many of the 77% voter turnout, were below 40 years old.
 Sunday Times, 26 April 2009