Communities will receive political visitors, baby-kissing will be the norm and the youth (of voting age) will be wooed.

While the ANC was first out of the starting blocks with the launch of its election manifesto on 12 January 2019, the other two key contenders, the DA and the EFF, are scheduled to do so in the coming weeks. Battles are bound to be fierce in what some political analysts have dubbed a referendum on South Africa.

It may be open season for political parties, and we hope that they stick to the rules of the game. Some of which are contained in the Electoral Laws Amendment Act, signed into law by the President on 21 January 2019. While most amendments contained in the Act relate to enhancing the operations of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to run elections optimally, two provisions in the Act have received most media attention. The first being that public funds cannot be used for political campaigning, other than that which is awarded to political parties on a proportional basis in terms of the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act. The second issue relates to the eligibility of voters whose addresses are not yet on the voters roll, and provides relief to those living in informal settlements, rural areas and those who may be transient. The requirement of an address on the voter’s roll is to ensure that prospective voters are placed within a particular voting district. Crucially, this will help to avoid vote rigging and prevent electoral fraud, when voters are bussed in to swing a vote in a particular political parties’ favour. This matter will be elaborated on below.

The matter came to the fore in the Tlokwe by-election in 2013, where some who voted did not have proof of address. The matter, initially before the Electoral Court, escalated to the Constitutional Court on appeal. The Court ruled in June 2016 that the IEC was obligated to record addresses on the voters roll and backdate this to 2003 and furthermore that the process must be completed within 18 months. In this matter, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said, “…the voters roll as it stood was inconsistent with the rule of law. The IEC’s failure to record all available addresses on the national common voters roll is inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid”.  Prior to this date, that is, between 1994 and 2003, addresses were not necessary to register as a voter.

Despite the IEC being granted an interim extension by the Constitutional Court to November 2018 to gather all addresses, it sought yet another extension in August 2018 that would take the completion beyond the election date. In its 2018 briefing to the NCOP quoted below, the IEC quoted from figures gleaned from Stats SA, “there was a 35 million voting age population (VAP) eligible to vote, of which 26.1 million had registered as voters. When the Constitutional Court had ruled in 2016 that the addresses of voters must be compiled, there had been only 34% of voters with addresses on the voters roll. This had increased and currently there were 82% of voters with addresses on the voters roll.” Recently, IEC CEO, Sy Mamabolo, has promised the media that these numbers will escalate in the run-up to the election.

This provision in the Electoral Laws Amendment Act comes with a critical proviso that might have been overlooked by the media. In a briefing to the NCOP’s Social Services Committee by the IEC on 27 November 2018, Commissioner Janet Love, explained the rationale for this. She said that, “the IEC recognised the challenges voters faced in informal settlements such as fire, job opportunities elsewhere, health status, etc, so the necessary provisions had been provided to allow people to give fair descriptions of their place of living so an address can be registered. Registered voters on the voters role without an address, would be able to vote only in the national elections”. The obvious implication is that voters without addresses cannot vote in provincial elections. This issue may well be contested in the coming days.

Elections that are free and fair are a critical mechanism for citizens to exercise their decision-making and to elect public officials. Public officials, in turn, owe the electorate a commitment to keep the needs of citizens uppermost in mind. The 2019 elections will be the 6th national election since the transition in 1994. The electorate deserves more and better, but from experience it is predictable that the race card will be whipped out and instead of building on South Africa’s visionary constitutional values, political mileage will be the name of the game. Each message will likely compete to be more hate-filled and derogatory, with the ultimate project to build a united country for all who live in it, sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

However, it is not too early for political parties to engage citizens respectfully and inclusively.  Instead of playing divisive politics to garner votes, they should focus on putting manifestos on offer that propose a future built on hope, respect and development,to enable shared peace and prosperity.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director

Photo credit: warrenski on / CC BY-SA

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