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Pretoria - Requiring political parties to pay large deposits to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to contest the elections excluded poor people from exercising their constitutional right to be voted for, the High Court in Pretoria has heard.
The court heard on Wednesday that the poor would be denied the right to bid for public office if the IEC was not stopped.
Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, representing the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), told the court that denying the poor the right to be voted for would be a violation of their rights enshrined in the constitution.
“This requirement will disenfranchise poor communities, and is similar to apartheid,” he said.
The court was hearing arguments in the urgent application by the Julius Malema-led EFF against the imposition by the IEC of a deposit of R605 000 for political parties to contest the May 7 national and provincial elections.
Parties must pay a deposit of R200 000 for the National Assembly and R45 000 for each province they want to contest elections in. This means parties contesting nationally and in all provinces will have to pay R605 000. Those who win at least one seat or more get their money back.
It is the first time in local history that the constitutionality of the law that requires parties to pay a deposit is challenged in court. The IEC is defending the application.
The commission’s legal team argued that the deposits were necessary and provided for by the law. The deadline for submitting a nomination list and to pay the deposit is next Wednesday. The IEC also argued it was more expensive to contest elections in other countries.
There was disapproval from EFF leaders in the court when Judge Joseph Raulinga asked Ntsebeza if the issue was about affordability, and whether the party should not ask its members for donations.
Even Malema muttered that the question was political.
Judge Raulinga said the IEC used the financial deposit requirement to guarantee the “seriousness” of political parties vying for public office.
Malema, addressing party members in front of the court, said EFF members could not afford the deposit. The party’s commander-in-chief had sat with the legal team throughout proceedings, which ended in the evening. He said party members were poor, and even if they had R10 their main concern was putting food on the table, not paying the IEC.
“The IEC is disputing that we are poor, but who are they to tell us who we are? This is a clear sign the IEC loves money more than it loves people. At the EFF we love people more than money. The judge should come outside to look at all of you to realise that we are a serious political party.”
Malema said requiring the poor to pay to be voted for was similar to apartheid laws that required black people to have a property to vote. Politics was not about money, he said. “Money or not, the EFF is going to be on the ballot paper. Elections without us will not be free and fair. With or without money, we’ll fight with everything we have to restore the dignity of the poor.”
Judgment was reserved.