Elections Brief: Conflict Prevention, Gender and Elections: Deploying the Women’s Election Mechanism for Peace

By Published On: 27th May 2024

The 2024 elections will be South Africa’s 7th National and Provincial elections marks the year that South Africa celebrates 30 years of democracy. While democracy as a set of social practices appear to be flourishing, the record on the performance of successive dominant party democratic governments with the African National Congress (ANC) at the helm, has been more uneven. The 2024 elections take place amidst a social and economic crisis, with the context characterised by high levels of unemployment, widespread energy shortages, major infrastructure deficits, high levels of corruption and malfeasance, high levels of violent crime and violence against women, and increasing factionalism in, and fragmentation of, political parties.  Social cohesion appears to be at its lowest since the ushering in of democracy in 1994 and this is typified by a lack of national unity and a lack of a common vision for the future of the country, hence the proliferation of political parties. These conditions, have a profound impact on the levels of trust in government institutions and in the leadership of political parties. See: South African Reconciliation Barometer data on trust in institutions  SARB. Combined, these factors lead to a decline in democratic practices in society and further declines in the effectiveness of democratic government.

The most immediate impact of the socio-economic challenges facing South Africa has been an erosion in the electoral support base of the ANC a political party that has been in government since 1994. Several polls indicate that the ANC will not obtain an outright parliamentary majority, and that it will therefore have to form a coalition government. Which political parties it partners with, will be crucial for the stability and legitimacy of the country going forward. Already the Democratic Alliance (DA) has referred to a pact between the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as the “Doomsday Pact,” whilst the EFF notes, that it is prepared to undertake an alliance with either one of the two, namely the DA or the ANC. We have also seen a spate of new political parties (52 political parties will be contesting the national elections), positing themselves as the bearers of South Africa’s renewal.  These elections are therefore likely to be fiercely contested. The stakes are high: there may be possible alternation in power and change in the party leading government, post the 2024 elections.

There are concerns about possible election related violence in the 2024 National and Provincial elections. Political party fragmentation, inter party competition and political gangsterism, that have led to a rise in assassinations, contribute to these fears.  South Africa’s   high levels of political violence is evidenced in the data provided by Armed Conflict and Events Data (ACLED) who highlight that between 2018 and 2022, South Africa recorded 143 events of violence targeting local officials (councillors, mayors, government officials), more than those recorded in conflict-affected countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali (See Relief Web 22 June 2023). Kwa-Zulu Natal has been a hotspot for politically motivated violence and the formation of a new party Umkhonto weSizwe under former ANC President and President Jacob Zuma in December 2023, will impact voting behaviour and can possibly heighten tension in the area during the elections. In a country with high levels of political intolerance and violence the necessary conflict prevention measures must be put in place. The Women’s Election Mechanism for Peace (WEMP) aims to be one such instrument, complementing and bolstering the Independent Electoral Commission’s conflict prevention measures.

What is the Women’s Election Mechanism for Peace (WEMP)?

In 2020, South Africa adopted a Nation Action Plan (NAP) on Women Peace and Security (2020-2025). This NAP calls for greater participation of women in peace and security decision-making, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and governance. The WEMP is a conflict prevention instrument that trains women in conflict analysis, management and mediation and deploys women as peace monitors pre, during and post elections. It is designed to have women engage in early warning, preventative diplomacy, mediation and election observation and in so doing contributes towards a peaceful national election.

The specific objectives of WEMP are to:

  • Conduct women’s advocacy for peace during the elections;
  • Train women, and utilise existing skills among women in election related conflict prevention;
  • Enable women to monitor and respond to potential violence (including GBV) in a co-ordinated way;
  • Provide analysis of the conflict and gender dimensions of the elections;
  • Contribute to the development of a peace infrastructure in South Africa.

As part of a project contributing to strengthening peaceful, inclusive and participatory electoral processes in South Africa, members of the WEMP network have been deployed, along with members of Blind SA, as peace and inclusion election monitors in five provinces in South Africa – Gauteng, Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. The monitors will constitute Peace Rooms that will be established in the respective provinces. These Peace Rooms are headed by Special Envoys that can refer and/or respond to incidents of violence during the elections. It works collaboratively with the IEC conflict prevention mechanism enhancing its capacity, from a civil society vantage point, and providing it with real time information and support.


Three Hundred (300) peace and inclusion monitors have been deployed across the five provinces to monitor peace and inclusion. They report incidents related to violence and conflicts in their communities, and also observing aspects of inclusion of marginalised groups, such as women, youth and persons living with disabilities in various processes related to the elections.

During the period 8 May 2024 to 16 May 2024 a total of 167 weekly reports were received. A total of 24 incidents were reported, largely in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, and Western Cape. These were: incidences of intimidation, substance and drug abuse among the youth (a trigger for violence), political intolerance, and the defacing of political party campaign posters.

The graphic below displays the total number of incidences per category across the five provinces in which monitors were deployed.

While concerns about possible elections-related violence in the areas which are taken to be hotspots for violence such as KZN, and given the fragmentation of the political space and formation of the MK Party that is contesting ANC & IFP strongholds in KZN, there has thus far been no evidence of violence reported by network monitors in KZN. The pre-election period in KZN seems to be relatively peaceful with election related disputes being channelled through appropriate institutions, such as the Courts.

To date, two judgements remain outstanding, both of which may have a material impact on the conduct of the elections. The first concerns judgement on the Electoral commission’s appeal against the electoral court’s judgment which dismissed the Commissions decision to disqualify Zuma from standing for Parliament. The second centres on four political parties, the African Congress for Transformation (ACT), the Labour Party, Afrikan Alliance of Social Democrats (AASD), All African Allied Congress (AAAC) requested that the deadline to register candidature be extended. They argued that the IEC registration system was dysfunctional. The Electoral Court found the system “was not as ineffective and cumbersome to use as the applicants would make it out to be” and that the parties’ “unpreparedness and their tardiness which resulted in their inability to comply” with the requirements to register. These parties are arguing that the Constitutional Court rule that the process of registration be re-opened since this disenfranchises their potential voters and that the technical glitches effectively deny them the right to contest the election.

While this is encouraging that these disputes and potentially conflictual situations are being mediated through the courts, it is concerning that it serves to distract the Electoral Commission from its core functions, especially this close to the actual election date.  As of the 16 May 2024, judgements on these matters were not handed down.

There are more than 27 million registered voters (the highest number yet), for the 2024 elections of which 15 million (55%) are women. There will be no women leader who will emerge as president from these elections – all the top parties are headed by men.  Women, such as Patricia de Lille (Good Party) and Colleen Makhubela (South African Rainbow Alliance) are the founders and leaders of their respective parties, but these are not major parties in South Africa’s political landscape.  Although the top five political parties have substantive women’s representation, they are not making a concerted effort to attract the support of the majority of women voters.  Instead, the parties are vying for the “youth vote”, all eagerly displaying events and activities focusing on the inclusion of youth. While this is encouraging, very few parties, if any, display an equally vigorous commitment to the inclusion of the disabled, or women. When election stakes are high, the likelihood that gender issues and inclusion of marginalised groups becoming s peripheral, is high – this trend is clearly visible in South Africa’s elections. There ought to be concern that fewer women are participating as candidates of parties or independent candidates in the upcoming elections. This trend is generally concerning given that the top three parties; ANC, DA and EFF are all led by men. And smaller parties too, seem to have fewer women occupying leadership positions except for two parties – Good and South African Rainbow Alliance.

Sexism, patriarchal attitudes, sexual harassment and Violence Against Women (VAW) remain key gender related challenges for South Africa. These factors negatively impact women’s meaningful participation in politics and can limit their freedom of choice and participation during elections. According to UNWOMEN (Website 16 May 2023) “electoral gender-based violence includes physical, emotional, sexual and intellectual violence that impedes the full participation of women in every aspect of elections, as voters, party members, aspirants, candidates, party officials, electoral officials, security agents, observers, monitors and press.”  These issues are not tracked in South Africa’s elections. Much of the focus on gender issues and gender inclusion, with a focus on women’s representation, is a feature of post-election coverage and analysis. The preoccupation with the number of women that make it to parliament and are represented in cabinet, remains without a sufficient focus on the substantive gender issues. As a result of this systemic exclusion, SA continues to be bedevilled by issues of sexism, sexual harassment and violence against women (VAW) rooted in the patriarchal nature of the South African society. These highlighted challenges point to a more sustained problem of less participation of women in SA politics. More critically for the upcoming elections, there seem to be less political party campaigns targeting women issues.

We should therefore be monitoring how women are being included into political debates, their representation in political parties and the extent of violence against women political candidates and women voters. The WEMP seeks to provide this form of monitoring capacity.

South Africa needs a new language to converse in, beyond violence, and must create a new positive narrative in which peace and prosperity are prevalent. These matters are not the sole preserve of political parties and government incumbents – they require all citizens to do their part. The 2024 elections should be credible, peaceful and inclusive, and the work conducted by the peace and inclusion monitors is a step towards contributing to this, as an instrument towards sustainable peacebuilding through reducing violence and focusing on women’s substantive political participation and inclusion.

2024 weekly election briefs eisa 1 transparent democratic governance in africa

The South African Elections Weekly Briefs are produced through a partnership between The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, Media Monitoring Africa and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. The purpose of the partnership interventions is to strengthen peaceful and inclusive participatory electoral processes in South Africa.

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