The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) announced on Wednesday that it would go ahead with October’s local government elections as planned, and that voter registration will take place on 17 and 18 July, despite fears of a Covid-19 third wave.
The commission’s chairperson Glen Mashinini said the organisation could not allow the pandemic to threaten South Africa’s hard-earned freedoms.
“We cannot allow the pandemic and its challenges to change our values and beliefs. Our constitution also stands as a beacon of hope for our society and an enabler of our democracy. Nothing must steer us away from our constitutional democracy,” said Mashinini.
“While remaining true to our constitutional commitments, the commission cannot be oblivious to the realities brought by the pandemic. We are facing the tyranny of the elections being a super spreader of the virus, and also the constitutional democracy suffering a backslide if the elections are postponed. We can’t suffer from either.”
He said the commission hoped that the appointment of retired Judge Dikgang Moseneke to review the election preparations would provide much-needed clarity. Moseneke’s report is expected next month.
“We hope that his review will guide us going forward on how we can host a free and fair election. Based on the constitution, the law and technical readiness, we are of the view that we are ready to proceed with the municipal elections as planned. This has been advised by health experts and those working with disaster management,” said Mashinini.
He said the commission had reviewed many other states that had managed to host successful elections during the pandemic.
“Elections are not about political parties, or independent candidates. They are about communities coming together to determine the future of our country and their communities. The supremacy of the constitution should prevail.”
Mashinini said:“The epoch we are in calls on all of us to engage and journey together to ensure the continuation of our hard-won constitutional democracy. We encourage everyone — and especially the youth — to register to vote and participate actively in the upcoming elections [while] keeping safe and ensuring the safety of others.”
IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said: “We are on track to deliver the sixth democratic elections, as envisaged in our constitution.Ten thousand five hundred councillors are going to be elected into municipal councils and over 65 000 candidates will contest these elections. We have spent the past five years trying to update the address[es] of the voters’ roll and massive progress has been made in this regard.”
Mamabolo added that the IEC is still trying to find the correct addresses for 1.2-million potential voters.
“Preparing and delivering a municipal election is complex and a very multifaceted undertaking. Voting mobilisation is being launched today. We are encouraging all voters to check and update their details on the IEC systems,” said Mamabolo.
Voter registration weekend will take place on the weekend of 17 and 18 July.
“Outreach activities at schools and university campuses around the country will be held. Young voters have had fewer opportunities to register than older generations and we are trying to change this,” said Mamabolo.
He said the IEC was holding talks with political parties to finalise additional voter registration measures, and that new technologies will be used to ensure smooth processes, such as a “new digital device” that will replace the existing zip-zip machine.
The new device will allow the commission to monitor voter participation in real time and prevent multiple voting. It will also help with ballot paper tracking and managing payment of electoral staff.
The IEC’s official theme for the election campaign is “Every voice together”.