South Africa campaigns adopt online social media

Digital Content

South Africa made history as the first country in Africa to hold political debate on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, as well as on interactive Web sites that allowed improved interaction with voters.

On a continent where political campaigns are overshadowed by regional and ethnic politics, empty rhetoric, intimidation of opponents, violence and vote rigging, South Africa is following in the steps of U.S. President Barack Obama's technology-driven campaign.

Political-party interactive Web sites with donation links are common fronts for advancing party issues, but the main battleground has been moved to online social media such as blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

The ruling Africa National Congress held a live debate on Twitter on April 17, discussing issues such as corruption, health care, power and sustainability, the criminal justice system and the economy.

The Democratic Alliance party also uses Twitter to engage voters while Congress of the People (COPE), which broke away from the ANC, has used Facebook as the main space for engaging online users.

While the ANC Twitter debate was applauded as a major development, it was also criticized for isolating the majority of the 16 million voters given that only 5 million of the 45 million South Africans have access to the Internet, according to Research ICT Africa.

Ismail Dhorat felt that hosting the debate between noon and 1 p.m. was likely to exclude the Muslims who consider Friday a holy day. He notes in his blog that he received a response from the ANC Twitter debate organizers within a few minutes.

Tash Chapman, a blogger from Cape Town, reproduced the issues debated by ANC on Twitter and sought comments from the blog visitors.

Computerworld Kenya