This paper explores different aspects of voter behaviour in South Africa to assess whether elections act as an effective accountability mechanism. It particularly examines voters’ willingness to sanction the incumbent ANC government by looking at its past performance and punishing the party by withdrawing electoral support if performance is perceived to be poor. The paper also examines voter perceptions of political parties to establish whether sufficient ‘electoral market’ exists in order to make selection among numerous political parties a viable option for voters. Finally, it examines cognitive mobilisation among the electorate to establish whether voters are sufficiently politically engaged and interested in politics to move their support elsewhere if they are to sanction government at election time. The paper concludes that elections as a mechanism to sanction and hold government to account in the traditional sense is weak, making political accountability through elections more elusive. Instead, greater attention should be given to the method of ‘selection’ as a means to control politicians.