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INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES AND SOUTH AFRICA’S 2024 GENERAL ELECTIONS

Issued by Shaun Kinnes on behalf of the FW de Klerk Foundation on 14/06/2024

 

Introduction:

South Africa’s 2024 General Elections have been marked as one of the most vital and controversial elections since the 1994 election that ushered in South Africa’s new dawn of democracy and freedom. Not only was the election hotly contested, but it was the first to feature independent candidates.

Independent candidates are individual citizens, not affiliated with a political party, who run for a seat in Parliament. This allows voters to directly vote for their preferred candidate to represent them within national and provincial legislatures.

 

What are the Benefits of Independent Candidates?

  1. Increased Representation: Views different from those of political parties can now be voiced in Parliament.
  2. Enhanced Accountability: Independent candidates are unbound by party loyalties. This ultimately makes them more accountable to their constituents who elected them.
  3. Increased Civil Society: Civil society movements may back certain independent candidates. This may ultimately provide civil society with a greater opportunity to participate in the law-making process.

 

Why Were Independent Candidates Allowed to Participate Now?

In the New Nation Movement NPC v President of the Republic of South Africa 2020 (6) SA 257 (CC) (“New Nation Movement”) case, the Constitutional Court deemed it unconstitutional that the Electoral Act, 1998, did not make provision for independent candidates to run for office in provincial and national elections. The Court held that this infringed upon the constitutional right to freedom of association (section 18), dignity (section 10), right to stand for public office (section 19(3)(b)) and right to freedom of conscience (section 15). Because of this, the Court declared the Electoral Act invalid and told Parliament (as the country’s law-making body) to fix it. Enter the Electoral Amendment Act, 2023 (“EEA”), signed into law on 13 April 2023, which changed the Act to allow for independent candidates.

The EEA came into operation on 19 June 2023. Almost immediately its constitutionality was challenged by two separate cases, the judgments of which were both handed down by the Constitutional Court on 4 December 2023.

Firstly, the case of Independent Candidate Association SA NPC v President of the Republic of South Africa and Others 2024 (2) SA 104 (CC) challenged its 200/200 split of seats in the National Assembly. The Independent Candidate Association SA NPC argued that this split favoured political parties, thus, it undermined the value of votes for independent candidates and violated the constitutional provisions regarding equality (section 9), the right to vote and the right to stand for public office (section 19). The Court’s ruling reaffirmed Parliament’s discretion in structuring the electoral system, while emphasising the need to balance proportionality and the avoidance of overhang – ultimately determining that the split did not infringe upon political rights.

Secondly, the case of One Movement South Africa NPC v President of the Republic of South Africa 2024 (2) SA 148 (CC) challenged the 15% signature requirement for independent candidates and seat allocation recalculations. The majority of the Court ruled that the 15% signature requirement unjustifiably limited political rights (specifically the freedom to make political choices and to stand for public office) unfairly and arbitrarily. Since there was insufficient time for Parliament to rectify the Act before the 2024 elections, the Court made an interim order (that would apply for 24 months), that a 1000-signature requirement for contestation by independent candidates must be read in.

The above cases highlight the ongoing tension between electoral regulation and the preservation of fundamental political rights, urging a delicate balance to uphold democratic principles in South Africa’s electoral processes.

 

Who Were the Candidates?

Five independent candidates participated in the May 2024 elections:

  1. Zackie Achmat in the Western Cape;
  2. Anele Mda in Gauteng;
  3. Lovemore Ndou in Limpopo;
  4. Faith Phathela in Limpopo; and
  5. Blessings Ramoba in Limpopo and in Gauteng.

 

Zackie Achmat:

Zackie Achmat is no stranger to South African politics and has been a long-time activist championing the fight against HIV/AIDS. Zackie Achmat’s campaign focused on fighting corruption. He also promised to advocate for housing, transport and health justice by holding the state accountable. Taking his accountability a step further, he asked that his constituents recall him in the event he does not fulfil his signed contract of Ethics and Accountability.

Zackie Achmat won 0,54% of the votes in the Western Cape (10,679 votes).

 

Anele Mda:

Anele Mda is another veteran of civil society and government: She was once the youngest Member of Parliament (“MP”) (in 2009) and has over 18 years of experience as a social and gender activist.

Her key policy position entailed abolishing government procurement’s tender system to fight corruption and create a transparent and effective procurement system.

Anele Mda won 0,09% of the votes in Gauteng (3,725 votes).

 

Lovemore Ndou:

An avid boxing champion and lawyer, Lovemore Ndou decided to step into the political heavyweight ring. His key policy positions are:

  1. Fighting corruption.
  2. Ensuring stricter measures be put on crime and criminals.
  3. Ensuring property rights, starting with saying no to expropriation without compensation.
  4. Pursuing clean and renewable energy resources to dissolve the power crisis.

Lovemore Ndou won 0,04% of the votes in Limpopo (522 votes).

 

Faith Phathela:

Faith Phathela believes that political parties are no longer the vehicle by which genuine change can be made in the lives of ordinary South Africans. Her policy positions are strongly guided by her faith and she positioned her campaign as one capable of eradicating corruption, arguing that the tender process should be eliminated and the Public Works Department strengthened.

Faith Phathela won 0,02% of the votes in Limpopo (273 votes).

 

Blessings Ramoba:

Blessings Ramoba’s key policy positions are fighting unemployment, driving industrialisation and enhancing border security.

Blessings Ramoba won 0,03% of the votes in Gauteng (1,103 votes) and 0,11% in Limpopo (1,574 votes).

 

How did Independent Candidates Fare in the 2024 Elections?

As can be seen from the above, all the independent candidates faced significant challenges, with none being able to win a single seat in Parliament. The main obstacles included a lack of financial resources and logistical infrastructure, making it difficult to compete with established parties. Independent candidates had limited funding for campaigns, staff and voter outreach, unlike parties with substantial resources.

Additionally, some independent candidates lacked name recognition, making it hard to build visibility and compete with candidates from major parties. They had to build their campaign infrastructure from scratch, which took time and resources they often lacked.

Finally, voters were hesitant to support independent candidates due to fear of “wasting” their vote, opting for parties with a higher chance of winning instead. These challenges limited the impact of independent candidates in the elections.

 

Solutions?

To address the challenges faced by independent candidates and enhance South Africa’s democracy, electoral reform is necessary. A possible solution lies in adopting the recommendations from the 2003 Van Zyl Slabbert Report, which proposes a “mixed system”. This system combines proportional representation with constituency-based elections, enhancing accountability and representation. Specifically, we would elect 300 members of the National Assembly from 69 multi-member constituencies, with each constituency having three to seven representatives based on its voter population. The remaining 100 members would be elected through the current proportional representation list system.

This mixed system allows independent candidates to compete more effectively within smaller, community-based constituencies rather than across entire provinces. Additionally, it ensures a closer relationship between elected representatives and their communities, fostering greater accountability. This may also help overcome the financial and logistical hurdles faced.

 

Conclusion:

Despite the challenges faced by independent candidates in their debut participation, the 2024 elections marked a crucial step towards a more inclusive democracy. To truly embody constitutional democracy South Africa must implement electoral reforms to allow independent candidates to compete more effectively, while fostering accountability within smaller, community-based constituencies. By encouraging a more inclusive political landscape and lowering the barriers for independent candidates, South Africa can better represent the diverse voices of its citizens, making our democracy more vibrant and representative.