Expats dig deep to make their mark

Robin Adams, a former Capetonian now in Türkiye, will be dressed in everything Saffer, while his wife will supply a special batch of koeksisters when they vote in Ankara. | Supplied

Robin Adams, a former Capetonian now in Türkiye, will be dressed in everything Saffer, while his wife will supply a special batch of koeksisters when they vote in Ankara. | Supplied

Published May 18, 2024


Durban — Elections 2024 have begun. This weekend tens of thousands of South Africans living abroad will go to the polls in the most anticipated elections since 1994.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) said voting had started smoothly in nine countries on Friday – Algiers, Amman, Cairo, Damascus, Jeddah, Kuwait City, Ramallah, Riyad and Tehran – while polling will take place in other countries Saturday (today).

Voting in London will take place Saturday (today) and Sunday (tomorrow) between 7am and 9pm because it has the highest number of expected voters at 24 194.

“We encourage those voters whose places of voting are open today (Friday) to vote before the close of voting at 7pm (local time in the territory),” said IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo.

He urged voters in London “not to leave it to the second and last day”.

“The international segment of the voters roll for out-of-country voters has 56 698 voters, but the total expected to vote is 76 580. This comes after the approval of 20 886 VEC10 notifications from voters who informed (the IEC) of their intention to vote outside of the country due to temporary absence,” said Mamabolo.

Many expats have expressed dissatisfaction at having to fork out thousands of rand to get to approved voting sites, some saying they may not be able to make the journey, depriving them of the chance to vote.

Louis Oelofse, 47, who has been living in Germany for nearly two years, will have to travel 477km from Bonn to Berlin to vote. He said the cost of getting to the polls made it impossible for hundreds of expats.

“I have to travel roughly the same distance as Durban from Johannesburg; the accommodation and travel costs come to €260 (about R5 100).

“I am, however, happy to participate in the election. If one considers the vast majority of South Africans living overseas, many of them are not voting because of logistical issues and costs, and so cannot participate effectively,” said Oelofse.

“Canada is eight times bigger than South Africa, yet there are only two voting stations in the whole country.

“Australia has one; it’s 3 716km between Perth and Canberra, where the voting station is. Imagine travelling to Cape Town from Pretoria and back and then almost all the way back again to Cape Town just to get to a voting station.”

The other question, he said, was “how long are you prepared to stand in a line to vote?”

Mareldiah Schippers, who lives in Abu Dhabi, UAE, will vote abroad for the first time.

“Luckily for me we have an embassy in our emirate. I do not have to travel to vote and it has no real financial implications,” she said.

“For my husband, however, it’s a three-hour commute and I feel there should be stations set up in smaller cities outside of the emirates, but we will not be deterred.

“We are expats and the country we are in is not for permanent residency, and therefore casting our votes and making our voices heard is imperative.”

Former Cape Town couple Robin and Lee-Ann Adams, who live and work in Istanbul, Türkiye, with their three-year-old daughter, Ayla, said they would show their patriotism at the polls.

“We plan to dress up in full South African kit (T-shirts, socks, etc) with our big SA flags when we head to Ankara to go and vote,” said Robin, a former Independent Media reporter who works with his wife at English-language TV network, TRT World (Turkish Radio and Television).

“Lee-Anne is also making a large batch of koeksisters from a special koeksister mix so we can have a proper taste of Mzansi on voting day.”

Adams said voting was paramount for them, but it meant travelling 323km from their home to the voting station in Ankara, which “is a pretty pricey exercise”.

“A couple of thousand for the flights, then there are the transfers and car hire (because it is a little cheaper than taxis to and from the airport) and you’re looking at R10 000 for the day trip, easy.

“As proud South Africans, we’re excited about the prospect of being part of the democratic process. We have voted in every single election, including municipal elections, since we have been eligible to. We know the price those before us paid for us to have the right to vote. Thirty years into democracy, our country has been to hell and back and the stench of corruption is everywhere. I believe the IEC can do more to assist expats,” he said.

Voting in the US has been extended to accommodate observant Jews, according to the Facebook group, Community Circle SA.

The IEC said the largest international voting stations by population are London (24 535), followed by Hague (6 659), Canberra (3 674), Dubai (3 266), Dublin (3 040), Wellington (2 292), Abu Dhabi (1 825), Washington DC (1 799) and Berlin (1 476).

The Community Circle SA Facebook page posted an IEC announcement that South Africans in the US would have more time to vote after a request by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

It said the South African missions in Washington, New York and Los Angeles would accommodate Jewish voters who observed the Sabbath by adjusting operating times from 7am to 11pm Saturday (today).

London-based Hayley Reichert, the founder of voter advocacy group Operation Watershed, said many lessons were being learnt about the need for more facilities for voters.

“The SA government and IEC have known about the estimated one million or more South Africans abroad for many years and should’ve proactively provided improved access to voting by changing the overseas vote from a ‘special vote’ to an ordinary vote if being cast in person at the foreign missions.

“This would create an opportunity for genuine special votes to be cast in the two days prior to overseas voting, bringing it more in line with options in South Africa regarding special votes.”

She also said getting identity documents had been a problem, calling on the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) to do better.

“Some have attempted to apply for IDs, but due to very poor consular services abroad they’ve never received their documents or it has been impossible to apply for an ID from abroad.

“Dirco needs to change the locations of some of their foreign missions to areas where the bulk of South Africans reside as well as issuing TICs (temporary identification certificates), especially just before an election.

“Many abroad have passports but no ID and therefore cannot vote in this election. Application and turnaround time for such documents need to improve across the board.”

Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the department had “just facilitated in making the venues available”.

The IEC said once overseas votes had been cast, the ballots would be transported through a “secure channel” to the national office of the Electoral Commission for counting.

Special votes for 1 668 076 approved applicants will take place in South Africa on May 27 and 28, of which 624 593 will be visited at their homes or places of confinement and 1 043 483 will vote at voting stations other than where they are registered.

Independent on Saturday