SA Jewish community spearheads effort for minority involvement in politics

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) is spearheading the ‘Make Us Count’ election campaign to encourage the Jewish community and other minority groups to participate in the democratic process. Its latest offering, The Great Debate, called on South Africans to join party leaders in political discussion on Wednesday night. The initiative hosted events in Johannesburg and Durban, with local party representatives, as a means of “getting the community to engage with politicians,” said ‘Make Us Count’ head, Alana Baranov.

‘Make Us Count’, which started in 2009, primarily targets the Jewish community, but is trying to reach out to other minority communities and faith-based groups. What makes the campaign unique is that it doesn’t advocate any one particular party but is politically independent said Baranov. “Our goal is to have a broad, inclusive campaign to get people involved in our democracy,” she said. Other initiatives rolled out by ‘Make Us Count’ have centered on voter-education and the creation of an election observer team to be registered with the IEC..

Two hundred people packed the Beyachad Community Centre in Johannesburg to capacity, and the event, chaired by political commentator, Justice Malala, had Paul Mashatile of the ANC, Mmusi Maimane of the DA, Sibongile Nkomo of the IFP, Lyndall Shope-Mafole of COPE and Cheryllyn Dudley of the ACDP on the panel.

Charisse Zeifert of SAJBD said there was a sense of camaraderie among the panelists and that it is remarkable that high-profile politicians made the time to address such a small percentage of the electorate. Malala raised the Israel-Palestine conflict and Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) as one the five key questions panelists were required to answer. All of the party representatives said that their party supports the UN two-state resolution and that they were not in favour of BDS. Questions put to the panelists were drafted from questions the public submitted using #TheGreatDebate on social media platforms. Zeifert described the public’s response as “overwhelming.” Baranov is extremely enthusiastic about the planned election observer team.

Baranov said that usually monitoring on election day falls into the hands of political parties, but that ‘Make Us Count’ would be present as independent citizens on May 7. Baranov also said that the campaign is drawing refugee communities in to assist with election monitoring. “They can’t vote, but want to be a part of our democracy too,” she said.