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The IEC is the aorta of our democracy

Lorenzo A Davids writes that one gets a sense that the IEC is not doing enough to encourage voter participation in elections, when looking at the 12% who now cast their ballots. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ African News Agency/ANA.

Lorenzo A Davids writes that one gets a sense that the IEC is not doing enough to encourage voter participation in elections, when looking at the 12% who now cast their ballots. Picture: Leon Lestrade/ African News Agency/ANA.

Published Nov 9, 2021

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On Saturday November 6, it was 59 years since the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 1761 in 1962, which declared apartheid a violation of the UN Charter.

On Monday, November 1, 2021, South Africans went to the polls to cast a ballot in the 6th Local Government Elections since 1996.

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We were able to exercise the right to vote on November 1 because nations and leaders on November 6, 1962, made a brave decision to cast their ballot at the UN in support of the freedom cry of thousands of people of colour from the discriminatory policies of apartheid. Over the ensuing 32 years, supported by UN resolutions and country allies, hundreds of young men and women would sacrifice their lives and careers in the Struggle to free SA from apartheid’s stranglehold.

In Chapter 9 of the Constitution, with the heading “State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy”, provision is made for the establishment of an Electoral Commission (IEC), tasked with overseeing national, provincial and municipal elections.

The Electoral Commission protects the integrity of the will of the people as expressed through some 40 million potential ballots. And exactly here lies the problem: with only 12 million people – 20% of the total population and 33.3% of the eligible voting population – exercising their right to vote, our Constitutional democracy is at risk.

The Electoral Act of 1998 places a duty on the Electoral Commission to organise elections in such a manner that they are free, fair and create the opportunity for all eligible South Africans to cast a ballot.

In 1994, after the first day of elections, millions more wanted to exercise their right to vote. Under the then interim Constitution, the IEC added two additional days – April 28 and 29, 1994 – to the election period. This resulted in an 86% voter turnout.

Compare this to the 12% who now cast their ballots, and one gets a sense that the IEC is not doing enough to encourage voter participation in elections. It is failing in its duty to encourage voters to vote.

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In 1994 we had mass voter education programmes. It has never been repeated.

The IEC can begin to address this concern by doing two things. First, every 16-year-old should be required to attend a compulsory two-day voter education programme. One day on a course and another being shown specific issues affected by the outcome of an election.

Second, elections in South Africa should be over two days – a Wednesday and a Thursday. The multiple skills gaps in our public service system and the community’s psychological architecture make a two-day election system a preferred option.

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If we want an 80% voter turn-out, we will need a two day election period. Treasury must also understand that the IEC is the one entity that cannot be subjected to butcher-like budget cuts. It is the aorta of our democracy. It carries the will of the people to the Legislature. If it fails, our democracy will fail.

When the UN General Assembly made their decision on November 6, 1962, the very next day, November 7, 1962, Nelson Mandela was on trial in the Old Synagogue Court in Pretoria, being accused of inciting the 1961 stay-at-home strike and of leaving the country without a valid passport.

He conducted his own defence. In his closing argument on November 7, 1962, he said: “I have done my duty to my people and to South Africa. I have no doubt that posterity will pronounce that I was innocent.”

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He was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

The IEC owes South Africa an election system that is brave enough, like Mandela was, to stand up to all systemic and structural issues that undermine the will of the people. It should be their daily business and only legacy.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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