By Bridget Amaraegbu
South Africa recently held its Election without the storm of protest that usually trails elections in places like Nigeria. Mrs Papela a member of the South African electoral Commission told Saturday Vanguard in an interview recently what they do to electoral offenders. Enjoy it.
What would you say is the difference between when you first visited Nigeria and now?
The most interesting thing about the Nigeria I see today is the airport, the changes are enormous. The arrival hall at least has been raised to international standard. I must commend the authorities of the airport for a job well done althoughÂ there is always room for improvement.
Youâ€™re a woman who has done so well internationally, tell us about your organisation…
I am the President of African Public Relations Association which was founded in Nairobi Kenya in 1975. I became the president of the association in 2004 after completing my tenure as the president of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa. And since then, Iâ€™ve been very active assisting where I can. When you look at the African structure very well youâ€™ll discover that they lean more around the men which has never been a problem for me. Instead it has always been my strength.
In South Africa, gender equality prevails, how did you people achieve that?
Yes. We have always been more concerned about talent than gender. Like myself, I grew up in one of the biggest towns in south Africa. And their gender is not an issue. What is important is that you are good in what you do. I grew up heading organisations in the church and school so Iâ€™ve always been a very busy person who has never seen my gender as a barrier in anything I do. In high school, I was the first woman to lead the debating society which was dominated by men. I think I gathered all that from my mother because my father died when I was justÂ 2yrs old so my mother has always been the man and woman put together for me.
You are also the spokes person for electoral commission in South Africa..
Tell us about the electoral process in South Africa…
In South Africa, we have a very dynamic and mature electoral process and as you know our elections are technologically driven. The votes ae manually counted but are taken to the system electronically. For instance, during the last elections where we had ten centres, I was receiving the results of all these towns including the most rural of them through the website. Our last election was hectic because there was a new political party which came out from African National Congress (ANC) which is the ruling party. So, all that created a lot of dynamics.
You got your independence in 1994 and within this short period your people have built so much confidence in your electoral system. Even when Zuma was elected, nobody complained. How did you achieve all that?
Itâ€™s because of the integrity of our electoral system, we run a transparent election. If you come today and ask me to show you how we count our votes, Iâ€™ll show it to you with comfort because they are still intact. Again, our integrity lies in our independence because we are founded by parliaments so politicians donâ€™t tell us what to do. Thereâ€™s a law that states how we run our elections and we follow it to the end.
Anybody that is not satisfied with it can take us to court and thatâ€™s what has kept our integrity. We have a chairperson who has been there for almost 14 years with plenty of experience. Our chief electoral officer is also a woman whoâ€™s respected globally. All these are possible because politicians donâ€™t dictate to us.
From what youâ€™ve said so far, can you draw any comparison between what
you do in South Africa and what is obtainable in Nigeria during elections?
The way we run our elections are not necessarily the same with the way it is done in Nigeria. I know that any country that wants a change in their electoral system cannot achieve that within the electoral body alone. It must include the political parties and the electorate. And Nigeria is not an exception because the electoral body itself is an organ of election. So if Nigerians come out together and protest againstÂ the electoral system they have right now, they may have the needed change.
Another thing is that people should not get tired of going to court. Whenever an election result thatâ€™s not favourable to the people is announced, they should challenge it at the court. Like our own electoral body has been taken to court six times by South Africans who are based abroad. It doesnâ€™t matter how many times you have to go to court, what matters is that the anomalies are corrected.
Was there any affirmative action that was taken by the government of SouthÂ Africa to get your system to where it is today?
As you know weâ€™re coming from a very de-franchised system of apartheid so when the new government took over in 1994, it deliberately tried to turn around the situation of women because before then women were just seen like any other specie. So affirmative action came immediately followed by black empowerment (blacks must be given equal rights as whites then women must be accorded the same right as men). With all these measure some of us were able to scale through and since then weâ€™ve never looked back.
I think in the last elections more whites voted than blacks, donâ€™t you sense any sign of apartheid coming back?
No, not in a million years. If you go by the last elections it was only in one province that the ruling party didnâ€™t get enough votes. Iâ€™m not ready for it in my life time at all. The Whites may have been seen more because of their colour but the results are firmly dominated by the Blacks.
As a woman who has gone through all these positions, you must have faced some challenges, What are they?
The biggest challenge has been coming from a family thatâ€™s not financially strong. For instance my church sponsored my first education. So finance is the key issue. Another thing is knowing that some people still do not appreciate your efforts because you are a woman. So it becomes more imperative that you must deliver to prove them wrong and that can be psychologically challenging. Itâ€™s almost like going to a war zone, you either conquer or you die. Sometimes we still come across those men whoâ€™ll say what can a woman tell me but I never mind because Iâ€™ve remained focussed. It also tells you that you have to be on your toes always and be ahead of your peers.
From all youâ€™ve said about South African elections, do you want us to believe that there are cases of electoral malpractice?
No. Even in the last election, we had two presiding officers that were arrested because of fraud. The presiding officer is the highest ranking officer in an election centre and anything he/she says make or mar the election. These two people were found with electoral materials that were supposed to be ballot papers which would have been counted and we just handed them over to the Police. Sometimes, the crime may not be the issue but the action taken against the offender.
Lets go back to your association (APRA)…
APRA is a national organisation like (NIPR), Nigeria Institute of Public Relations, (PRAG) Public Relations Association of Ghana, Gambia and so on. These associations help to portray the image of Africa. For instance, if not that I visited Nigeria, all Iâ€™ll see about Nigeria is the militancy issue that we watch on TV and read on the papers. But right now Iâ€™m here in Nigeria and Iâ€™ve not been kidnapped so am going back to South Africa with a different message. Iâ€™ve been in Kenya, Gambia, Ghana and as I move around I see different windows of Africa that I would not have known and thatâ€™s what these associations stand for. It also go a long way to show our inability to drive our economy amongst ourselves and how weâ€™re not able to portray this continent well. Why do we always see militants everyday on Nigeria TV, are no better things happening that can be shown. Some foreigners may begin to think that theyâ€™ll be kidnapped as soon as they step into Nigeria which is not good for all of us. Our organisation is poised to take a better message about Africa to the rest of the world.
Now as a woman and a wife, how do you manage the home front and work?
Iâ€™m married to a wonderful husband who is my strength because Iâ€™m an exceptionally busy woman and heâ€™s been extremely supportive. He allows me to move about in the course of my job. I must say that the biggest strength of every woman is the kind of husband sheâ€™s living with.
So what can you say about some women who do not have such opportunity as you?
Iâ€™ll like to say here that it all boils down to the choice of life partners we make. Some women have made choices of men who dictate their life pattern, like some husbands whoâ€™ll say if you move I shoot ( throwÂ her outÂ of the house). To the men out there, I think theyâ€™re missing a lot because if only they can allow their women just about 20 per cent freedom, theyâ€™ll discover her potentials. A certain man once urged me to work hard because he wished his wife could be like me. But heâ€™s not complaining because heâ€™s guilty of not allowing her to move out.
To those women, Iâ€™m saying that a time will come when all those barriers will be broken after all apartheid took 40 years but it finally came. I see a younger generation of women who will not be affected with any form of imprisonment by any man.
Lastly, how prepared is South Africa to host the world?
Ah: you have no idea, (Laughing) Iâ€™ve never seen my country so beautiful. Our stadia are in place, the roads are intact and our airport is booming with beauty. So we are prepared but we need to be prepared together because itâ€™s not just a South Africa thing, itâ€™s a continental affair. Iâ€™m saying that Nigerians must be prepared to save the cup from leaving Africa. We need the Super Eagles and other African teams to buckle up so that we retain that Cup in Africa.
I also want to assure you that weâ€™re ready to host the most beautiful World Cup ever.