Explainer: Can an independent candidate stand in more than one ward?

All across South Africa there are individuals who have chosen to attempt to win the privilege of serving all of us at a local government level. They are walking, knocking, “postering”, talking to people to make a cross next to their name, and if they are not an independent candidate, next to their parties name on the 3 August 2016.

A number of these candidates are working harder than others. They have chosen to stand in more than one ward. How is that possible, why are people doing this, is it even constitutional? Graham Sell one of 16 341 Democracy Works Foundation’s Facebook followers was very interested in this issue.

The short answers are, it is possible (2016 Municipal Elections Handbook), because they can indeed do so and it is constitutional.

Standing as a candidate in multiple wards “is an electoral strategy that is constitutional” according to Masego Sheburi of the Independent Electoral Committee(IEC) but “it is not covered by specific clauses in any legislation governing elections or local government”.

The Constitutional authors believed that proportionality was an important concept in the electoral system to ensure a plurality of voices in governance structures in South Africa. The manner in which proportionality is allocated at national and provincial level is simple – if you get 60% of the votes in parliament or the legislature, you get 60% of the seats.

At a local government level things are slightly more complex. It is a mixed direct (wards) and indirect (proportional representation) electoral system. This is why if you live in a metropolitan area you get two ballot papers and if you live in a District Municipality (DM) you get three ballot papers. In a Metro the first ballot paper is to elect your ward candidate and the second is to vote for a party. In a DM you get your ward ballot, a ballot to elect a party at your local municipality and then a ballot for a party at a district level.

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Authority uses a formula to decide on how many seats each council gets in the country. This is promulgated by the MEC for local government at a provincial level in the government gazette. Once the vote is counted the following happens as legislated by the Municipal Structures Act:

The total number of votes cast for the ward candidates and the total number of votes cast for proportional representation for parties is added up. This total is then divided by the number of seats available on the council. This allows for the IEC to arrive at a quota of votes required for a seat in the council.

All the votes that a party gets from the wards and from proportional representation votes are added up. Each party’s total is then divided by the quota of votes to see how many seats they are entitled to. This is where we all get confused and only the statisticians and the IEC know what is going on.

In metro areas the split is 50% ward candidates and 50% proportional representation candidates taking into account the quota system. At a DM level it is more complicated. Only 40% of the District Council seats will be allocated to parties based on the PR vote. Each council in the district will be given a number of seats and will need to send councillors to serve on the District Council. If a municipality is allocated 5 seats on the DM and Party C won 60% of the PR vote in that council then they are entitled to 3 of the 5 seats.

A party may do well in proportional representation terms, but if they won the same number of wards that are available to them as seats on the council based on the quota, they will not be allocated any more seats for their proportional representation candidates.

A situation may also arise that a party does not win any of the wards, but on the basis of doing well on proportional representation, they may win seats on council.

This explains why Michelle Calitz of the National People’s Party in Cape Town is standing in 115 wards, Muzonjani Zulu from the Academic Congress Union in 108 and Wilhem Schultz of Independent Ratepayers Association in 99 – both in eThekweni; and Kgaugelo Mabitsela of the Ekurhuleni Ratepayers Association in 99.

It is a strategy for smaller parties who know they may not win a ward, to drum up enough support across a number of wards to get access to a seat on council. The ANC, DA, EFF, FF+ and PAC are among the name recognition parties that are also using the strategy that at face value seems to be a game of roulette, but is in real terms aimed at trying to facilitate a more diverse set of voices at the local governance table.

If one of our hard working candidates wins two wards they will have to choose which one to serve and a by-election is triggered in the other.

To those candidates who have campaigned in 2, 15, 40 or 115 wards we wish you well in your quest to serve us and hope you get a well-deserved rest after Election Day.

  • Watch: Indie candidate Odwa Fumba: Contesting against ANC was a difficult decision


Yvette Geyer is a consultant in the field of governance and democracy. She has over 20 years’ experience covering a range of specialities such as elections, local government, safety and security, youth development, gender, anti-racism, transitional politics, HIV/Aids, water, civil society and policy development. She is a contributor for Democracy Works Foundation, where this article was published first. 

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