Johannesburg - South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Tuesday ruled against the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), saying the way the voters’ roll had been been compiled was unlawful, but it gave the IEC 18 months to fix the problem.
This means the local government elections would go ahead on August 3, despite the fact that millions of names on the voters’ roll were not accompanied by valid addresses.
Handing down his judgement in the urgent matter brought by the IEC seeking leave to appeal an earlier Electoral Court ruling that it furnish addresses of registered voters to candidates contesting the elections, Mogoeng said: “The compilation of the current voters roll is unlawful.”
However, Mogoeng said he did not have the power to postpone the elections and they would go ahead as planned. He ordered the IEC to fix the voters roll in the next year and a half.
“Come 2019 the national voters roll will have to be free of defects,” said Mogoeng.
The IEC welcomed the ruling.
IEC chairman Vuma Mashinini said the institution appreciated how the court dealt with the matter describing it as “Solomon’s wisdom” in apparent reference to the biblical King Solomon, former ruler of Israel.
Mashinini said: “It shows that they were able to understand the intricacy and complexity that the IEC was faced with and it required a solution”.
Earlier in the year the electoral court ruled on the eve of the by-elections in Tlokwe in the North West that the IEC postpone voting by six weeks and furnish the parties with a voter’s roll complete with addresses.
On Tuesday, Mogoeng said independent candidates were entitled to the same rights as registered political parties and that the IEC’s failure to correct the Tlokwe by-elections and its failure to correct voter addresses was unlawful and against the constitution.
Mashinini said the judgement gave them clarity for a way forward regarding the addresses of voters.
“We urge people to exercise their right to vote. IEC will put together an action plan and will give feedback,” said Mashinini.
“The court has given us the facility we need, a period for us to rectify the voters roll.
“IEC is required to report back with progress as well as any challenges and we are confident that we will be able to raise above the challenge. We have taken all measures possible to ensure that we minimise any irregularities,” said Mashinini.
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Des van Rooyen, said the judgement wasn’t easy, but pragmatic.
“The ministry was concerned about depriving many voters the opportunity to vote. There’s no victory because this is a democracy,” said Van Rooyen.
Van Rooyen said the issues of addresses dated back to the apartheid era and was due to the backlog of developmental agendas but the ministry would make sure that the imbalances were addressed. Millions of South Africans live in informal areas without street names or numbers.
“Before the judgement pilot exercises were conducted … we found that two years were needed to fix the issues and we have been given 18 months but we are ready to assist where we can to ensure that the judgement is kept.”