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Frustration grows over possibility of local elections being postponed

Postponing local government elections will allow corruption to continue unpunished and threaten South Africa’s constitutional democracy, Party of Action (POA) president Billy Nyaku told the inquiry on the possibility of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) holding a free and fair vote this year.

On Thursday, day four of the inquiry, Nyaku told the chairperson, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, that his movement was aware that some political parties were pushing for the elections not to take place, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a reason.

“We are crystal clear that the IEC has already decided against holding the local government elections in October. We know they have postponed them, just tell us so,” said Nyaku.

“This is sad because you are trying to deny us our constitutional right to vote. There is already talk of a fourth wave [of the coronavirus]  in October, why is this already known? That is because it pushes the government’s agenda.”

“The POA already has taken a stance that elections must continue. We want them. Where I come from in Limpopo there are no proper roads, no clinics and other adequate services. The elections will help our people make a choice of government. IEC is well capacitated to hold the elections. So they must continue and IEC should put those necessary measures in place for people to vote,” Nyaku added.

In his submission, Virgil Gericke, president of Plaaslike Besorgde Inwoners (PBI), said the Covid-19 virus could still be around for years to come, but the reality was that South Africans needed basic services.

“We do not expect the government to know how many people could be killed by the virus before elections. However we expect them to improve the quality of life of our people. We don’t know how long this virus will last, it can still be a couple of years to come,” he said.

Many South Africans were still living in squalor without proper housing and sanitation, he added.

“We are not in favour of postponing the elections. Our members also agree with us. We say the government must take every step to realise the dream of voting for our people so their lives could be improved.

“We are a strong, resilient and united nation in every aspect of life. We can make this election possible. Using all the tools and systems that help the IEC to see how free and fair elections can be conducted,” said Gericke.

According to section 24 of the Municipal Structures Act, each municipal council has a five-year term, after which elections should be held for new office bearers.

Gericke said that postponing the upcoming elections would be a constitutional disaster.

“It will mean the country will not have any councillors after 27 October 2021. Elections are a cornerstone of our democracy. Government must work out a system that will ensure that council terms are not overstayed,” he said.

On the practicality of managing the elections and ensuring they are not a Covid-19 super-spreader event, Gericke said the IEC could also explore the option of extending voting days to as long as a week instead of just two days, and extending voting hours until much later in the evening.

“If the elections will not proceed, the IEC must let us know immediately,” he said.

Moseneke said he had heard presentations that if coronavirus infection numbers continued to rise, the elections should be postponed to March 2022, or until such a time that the rate of new cases slowed.

“I have listened to medical scientists and there is concern that the numbers might rise, and then how long should we defer the elections if the numbers keep going up? This is such a complicated matter, some people don’t even believe the science behind this will help,” the former deputy chief justice said.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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