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South Africa: ANC hosts debate on twitter for upcoming elections

There is a final push by political parties contesting the upcoming elections in South Africa. In particular, the ruling party the ANC (African National Congress) held a debate via twitter today.

Interestingly, the political parties have begun to make use of Social Media and social networks to get their message across. The most prominent party making use of these techniques has been the DA (Democratic Alliance) whose campaign seems to have been inspired by President Obama's election campaign last year.

The DA have been managing a presence on social networks and several twitter accounts such as that of the mayor of Cape town and head of the DA, Helen Zille.

However, today the ANC announced on a newly created twitter account “ANC_DEBATE” that they would be hosting a live debate with questions fielded by Jessie Duarte, an anti apartheid activist and current spokesperson for the ANC.

After the announcement there was some debate on the usefulness of this. A South African twitter user @woganmay even created a special page on twittersa, to aggregate all the comments. Some reactions to the debate however were negative and the ANC took criticism.

For example, Jason felt that all of this was too late.

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while Naeem felt that the amount of South African voters that are on twitter constitute a very small minority.

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The ANC_Debate account saw a flood of questions directed towards it, and some of the responses are summarized below.

@Saulkza: Let's talk economy: What are you going to do to stop a local recession? What about unemployment?

@ANC_debate: A massive public investment in infrastructure will stimulate economic activity, increased public works, support to key sectors.

@nikzaz: what will you do about crime in south africa?

@ANC_debate: Overhaul criminal justice system – better coordination, modernise systems, more resources. Organise communities and deal with causes.

@shaynekrige: What in your opinion was the ANC's biggest mistake over the last 15 years?

@ANC_debate: Not so much a mistake, but not enough effort put into involving people in govt and in decisions about their lives.

This comment interesting, as it begs the question: Are we going to see an overhaul of the current ANC, a new way of including people in government decisions? Maybe government 2.0?

They also responded to comments and fears of censorship of the press

@jasdonwar: What do you have to say against allegations that South Africa's media will be curtailed by the government after the election?

@ANC_debate: That's a scare tactic. ANC fought for media freedom and there's nothing to suggest we would undermine it.

On the issue of censorship of satirical cartoonists

@JeremyTNel: Do you believe that cartoonists are too irreverent? Would the ANC like to regulate satire?

@ANC_debate: Cartoonists are supposed to be irreverent. Satire is important. But they should adhere to same code of ethics as any other journalist.

On questions of power and sustainability

@flintza: Again. How do you plan to meet SA power needs while limiting our carbon footprint. Focus seems to be coal (short sighted)

@ANC_debate: SA needs to move away from coal but likely to remain major source of energy for foreseeable future. Increasing investment in nuclear, solar and wind power.

On questions of Jacob Zuma the presidential candidate being in the dock for corruption charges

@ANC_debate: All are equal before the law and have a right to be presumed innocent. ANC maintains law must take its course & this applies to Zuma as much as anyone else.

On AIDS prevention strategy

@ANC_Debate: Focus on prevention, encourage condom use and responsible behaviour. Expand ART to cover all who need it. Strengthen p/ships across society

@irenebarnard: How will you keep the public informed about the status of your full HIV “aggressive prevention campaign”?

@ANC_debate: People need to be involved in implementation through local health facilities, NGOs, govt izimbizo in addition to traditional media.

For further coverage of the debate, visit Capetownalive which also has a summary of some of the questions.

Some users reported that they had been blocked or ignored however Jessie responded that no users had been blocked, they did however acknowledge that not all questions were answered. There seems to be plans to make this Q&A session a regular thing as it was announced that next week Friday another session will be held.

I responded on my blog, that even though this debate is coming at a very late stage and only engages with users on twitter, it is however a major step in the right direction for the ANC as it gives people direct access to the party. If something similar could be rolled out nationwide allowing people with just a mobile phone to post questions and receive responses from party candidates this could prove very useful in engaging all South Africans.

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