OPINION: Lack of SA physical addresses undermines elections
Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke was recently drawn in by the IEC to provide advice on alleged double voting in the national election and its impact. But the main issue is the lack of physical addresses in South Africa. That is an unresolved problem. It is a matter that institutions such as Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) need to solve.
Physical addresses are not the concern of the IEC.
In 2016, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng handed down judgment in the matter of Mhlophe and others v the Electoral Commission, compelling the IEC to have a physical address as a condition for the integrity of the voters roll.
As the statistician-general that time, I had to provide evidence on the matter.
I pointed out that, indeed, physical addresses were a necessary attribute to accompany a voters roll, but sadly South Africa did not have a coherent system and credible authority to take care of the essential physical attributes that describe and identify geo-locations, where citizens in their composition as households and or families reside.
As a matter of necessity, the statistician-general compiles physical addresses for purposes of conducting a population census or surveys, from which he can draw a census.
These identifiers are usually harvested by a variety of constituencies for use, including by the Electoral Commission.
But despite undertaking such an exercise, South Africa still has up to half of its population not possessing addresses that can be vouched for as having sufficient fidelity, as required by the voters roll.
Mogoeng handed down his scathing judgment on this regard of the infrastructure under-girding democracy.
The attempt at providing addresses in South Africa, especially to the poor, is dismal, punctuated by silo approaches that, at best, leave society disrespected and badly serviced. The office of the statistician-general is part of this culture.
Faced with a dire situation preparing for the 1996 Population Census, the then Central Statistical Services (CSS) had to provide some address numbers in the rural areas and shack settlements, that were then painted on to dwellings. This chorus of numbers joined those earlier provided by water reticulation agencies, as well as those provided by Eskom.
A cacophony of numbers decorated the landscape of shack dwellers and rural households alike - an ugly and disrespectful scenario.
The CSS numbers were rather helpful, because they had a methodological base and had universal coverage. But they had some fundamental limitations. Thus, I sought collaboration with other agencies of the state in order to emerge with a citizen-focused address system during the Census 2001. Never again would we entertain the 1996 approach. But there were few takers.
The Post Office then was the lead agent, but headed the wrong way - with a woefully barren methodology.
Its methodology focused on post boxes, but this approach failed the muster of physical properties that an address envisaged, by both statistical and electoral operations desire. The office of the statistician-general developed methodological properties that would yield what a physical address would be.
Subsequently, these were successfully rolled out in some villages in the North West predominantly, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
Despite calls by local governments on Statistics SA to roll-out these addresses, infrastructure financial resources were not forthcoming from the Treasury to ensure the delivery of these addresses universally.
So when Mogoeng’s judgment was made 12 years later, I hoped that there would finally be a compulsion to address this matter, frontally and decisively.
Alas, there were lots of meetings, including inter-ministerial ones, with lots of muffins and cream, and many more departments and private sector intending to participate to meet the deadline.
I tabled a project plan and funding requirements, with clear deadlines to deliver this. But these fell under the weight of too many meetings and too many layers and layers of players, with zero resources for implementation.
The monster had too many heads and was bound to fail.
Today there are still no physical addresses and the challenges that the IEC faced in a national election, regarding double voting, will confront them again and many more justified Mhlophes will be armed with the ConCourt Judgement.
Without addresses, the integrity of an election will be corroded, and this is a fatal flaw that no statistician-general can resolve.
Let us ensure that the IEC does what it does best.
Cogta has an obligation to provide physical addresses to citizens, as a basic feature of respecting citizens.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za and twitter @PaliLehohla.