Elections 2024: A pivotal moment for democracy, IEC ready to reflect the will of the people



Published May 24, 2024


Sy Mamabolo

In just a few days our registered voters will have a constitutional encounter at the voting stations.

This encounter will offer each voter a unique opportunity to register a political choice. An election is an intersection between a people and their political rights.

This defining encounter is an affirmation, one without prevarication, of our collective commitment to electoral democracy with its salient characteristics of regular elections within a system of multi-party competition.

The Electoral Commission is the motive force for facilitating this constitutional encounter for the country.

Differently put, the Commission is an instrument at the service of a people to enable this constitutional encounter.

This election is about making democracy work or giving democracy practical face.

This is the perspective that informs our understanding of the enormity of the constitutional responsibility we carry.

We owe South Africa and her people an election that undoubtedly measures to the international and our own constitutional standards. Failure in this regard will have history pronounce harsh sentiments on us and our generation.

As we approach the grand finale of this electoral odyssey, the Commission today launches the National Results Operation Centre (ROC) - a theatre of electoral transparency. Indeed, a theatre of electoral dreams and political aspirations.

Like the biblical Peter, this is the ROC on which South Africa builds its house for manifesting electoral transparency. Indeed, a prism through which the world is given a glimpse of the intricacies of electoral operations.

Housed at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, Johannesburg, this ROC will serve as the beating heart of our electoral process. It comprises offices for Commissioners and staff, operational areas for co-ordinating the entire electoral process, political parties’ operational areas, radio and television studios.

This ROC is the foundation upon which electoral transparency rests. All role-players will have appropriate access to various system-based reports. These reports will provide a national state of play vis-à-vis the unfolding electoral process.

A matter of substantial import is that results of each voting station, once audited, will be instantaneously availed to political parties and the media through an Application Programming Interface (API).

This ROC will be an enduring symbol of our electoral architecture. Indeed, a temporary monument for the facilitation of constitutional guarantees so eloquently elucidated in section 19 of our constitution.

But this ROC will be a platform from which our collective leadership will be tested. It will be a place of political temerity. It will be a ground from where our vaunted love for the motherland will be tested.

There will be similar ROCs across all the nine provinces.

Today, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment as the journey to the elections enters its final and most critical stage. An important milestone was reached on 17 May when the first votes in these elections were cast.

We have seen throngs of South African voters at 111 diplomatic missions enthusiastically waiting their turn to express their political choices in this constitutional encounter. Although we have no definitive account of voter turnout at this point, preliminary indications are that we have significantly surpassed previous performance.

Once again our gratitude goes to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation and its staff for making this exercise possible. Without this partnership, the constitutional encounter for citizens in the world would certainly have been impossible.

Remarkable is the joyous atmosphere created by South Africans at the various missions. The patience displayed also served to indicate their commitment to vote. This is the spirit that we need to take into the elections next week.

We need to be patient and create a joyous atmosphere at the voting stations for elections that are also about celebrating our common nationhood.

The logical progression in the unfolding electoral process is to provide registered voters in special circumstances an opportunity so that they too are availed of an opportunity for political expression.

We have a model of electoral democracy that recognises the need for special arrangements. Our electoral scheme is not an exclusive preserve for the fit and healthy, it is rather a constitutional encounter for registered citizens.

Therefore, the Commission will administer special votes from 1,668,076 voters on the two days preceding election day. Pertinently, voting officials will visit 624,593 voters at their homes or places of confinement, and 1,043,483 will be assisted at voting stations where they are registered. Only 684 voting stations will not open on special voting days because they do not have a special vote to administer.

The provinces with the most approved special votes for both home visits and voting station visits are Gauteng (335,480), KwaZulu-Natal (320,010), Eastern Cape (286,059), Limpopo (159,800), Western Cape (137,558), Northwest (132,627), Mpumalanga (126,112), Free State (86,908), and Northern Cape (83,504).

It is important to point out that in addition to our trained electoral staff, agents from political parties and independent candidates, as well as accredited observers are allowed to join mobile teams as they visit various homes.

We, nonetheless, offer a caution that some voters may be in dire circumstances and thus request that their privacy be honoured so as to vindicate their dignity.

As we embark on this momentous journey, we find inspiration in the unwavering commitment of electoral staff, who are charged with the actual facilitation of the voting process at 23,292 voting stations.

These officials will diligently attend to the needs of those unable to visit the stations, ensuring a seamless and inclusive voting experience for all.

We have appointed 203,000 electoral staff to administer the voting process. A further 70 000 officials have been appointed as counting officers to enhance the counting quality of the counting and result slip completion.

This additional capacity is not meant to supplant the role of the presiding officer but is intended as an additional resource to facilitate counting. This new feature of the counting process underscores our resolute commitment to upholding the integrity of the electoral process. The profile of the voting staff is as follows:

• 73% female

• 28% youth under the age of 25

• 84% unemployed

As we hand over the baton to presiding officers to facilitate the voting process, we also remind them to never compromise electoral probity which is the cornerstone of integrity.

We say that this election is not about us and our prejudices. An election is about the 27 million registered voters whose political choices we are called to facilitate and record. In this regard, we dare not fail!

A ballot paper is a basic commodity in the electoral process. An election without a ballot paper, either electronic or physical, is an affront to the very notion of election.

The Commission, therefore, takes immense pride in announcing the completion of the ballot printing project. Final packaging and labelling are being done and delivery will be finalized imminently. The final leg of the distribution chain at local storage sites is aligned with the commencement of the casting of special votes on May 27.

Revisions to the electoral system have had implications to the number of ballot papers to be used in these elections. As a novel reality, voters will be presented with three ballot papers. I briefly outline the ballots as follows:

• The National Proportional Representation Ballot which will bear political parties only. This is to be used to restore overall proportionality and thus ensure the outcome of an election is proportional in general in compliance with constitutional requirements. This is the blue ballot.

• The Provincial-to-National or Regional Ballot is meant to ensure provincial representation in the composition of the National Assembly. The election based on this tier of the National Assembly will be contested by parties and independent candidates. This is the brown ballot.

• Provincial Ballots are used to elect members of provincial legislatures. Both parties and independent candidates are contesting on this ballot. This ballot is pink.

Given the prodigious number of 52 contestants on the national ballot paper, this ballot is configured in two columns with 26 parties on each side. To negate inadvertent spoils of this ballot, we remind all voters of the hallowed principle of voting: "One ballot, One Mark."

It is with great honour that we welcome a record-breaking approximately 160 organisations, which will cumulatively deploy over 5,000 observers.

This includes esteemed international bodies such as the African Union, The Carter Centre Democracy Program, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, SADC and the Electoral Commission’s Forum of SADC countries alongside legions of domestic observers committed to upholding the principles of transparency and accountability.

In our pursuit of inclusivity, we have implemented measures to ensure that the voting process is accessible to all South Africans, regardless of physical abilities.

In collaboration with the South African National Council for the Blind, we have again developed the Universal Ballot Template, a voting aid designed to empower persons with disabilities and special needs to exercise their voting right independently and with utmost secrecy.

As we approach this historic moment, we remind all voters of the general principle that governs our elections: a person votes at the voting station where they are registered.

The only exception to this rule is for those who have duly notified the Commission of their intention to vote outside their registered voting district.

I call upon all South Africans to answer the clarion call to make one cause with the constitutional encounter by voting in these elections.

To the media, political party leaders, and all stakeholders, let us foster an environment rooted in trust, integrity, and respect, setting an example for generations to come.

The Electoral Commission stands resolute in its commitment to declaring an election outcome that is a true reflection of the choices made by the South African people – the ultimate custodians of our democracy. For it is your democracy, and you must truly own it!

May the spirit of unity, peace, and patriotism guide us as we embark on this historic journey, ensuring that the will of the people remains the unwavering foundation upon which our nation's future is built.

*Sy Mamabolo is the Chief Electoral Officer of the Electoral Commission of South Africa.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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