Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke appointed by the IEC to look into the feasibility of hosting local government elections during a pandemic. WERNER BEUKES
Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke appointed by the IEC to look into the feasibility of hosting local government elections during a pandemic. WERNER BEUKES

Debate on whether to host municipal elections heats up

By Tshego Lepule Time of article published May 23, 2021

Share this article:

WHILE the country prepares to change municipal governments at the polls, some experts and political parties call to postpone the elections and related rallies in fear of Covid-19 super-spreader events while others argue that halting them would infringe on democracy.

The Municipal Structures Act of 1998 states that the term of municipal councils is five years and there is no leeway in South African law that would warrant an extension of the term of office of these councils.

However, political analyst, Erahim Fakir said despite there being no law that would allow a postponement, a proposal to postpone the elections by six to eight months that would be agreed to by Parliament and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) could be a workable solution.

“I believe a case can be made for a postponement but it must be done under strict conditions that clearly outline what the plan would be and what the challenges are. Given the slow pace of the country’s vaccination progress, a case can be made for extending the current term by about six to eight months,” he said.

“If there was a flood or the country was at war or there was an unfolding natural disaster, the doctrine of necessity would be applied that would allow the postponement of elections in the absence of provisions in the law.

“Parliament would have to agree with these conditions and together with the IEC, approach the courts to grant a limited postponement outlining the plans in place.”

This week the IEC appointed former Constitutional Court Justice Dikgang Moseneke to head up an inquiry to look into the feasibility of hosting elections during a pandemic. While other countries in the world have held elections, questions around political rallies, registration weekend and even voting day becoming super-spreader events have raised opposing views from political parties and experts.

Despite President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing October 27 as the date of election, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was yet to proclaim it.

Professor Burtrum Fielding said while he does not believe a postponement is warranted, the key questions should be around measures in place that would minimise the spread of the virus.

“The question around whether to hold elections this year is not a yes or no but a multidisciplinary question. And if there is to be a debate about whether (elections) should continue or not, it should be rather about how do we minimise the spread during the electioneering. That is what happened in India and where they had 50 000 people pitching up and those are the ideal situations for super-spreader events,” said Fielding.

“I do not think (a postponement) might be warranted, it is rather about how do we find new ways of electioneering, minimising the crowd, reaching people in other ways. If we are busing people in or they go by taxis, the risk in the bus or taxi is big for spread and cross-contamination and that is why it is a difficult question. It depends on what factors we have to minimise the risk.

“The consultation is warranted, we don’t know by that time how many people will have been exposed, or received the vaccine. I would say minimise the number of people that get together, something as simple as temperature screenings for those who attend events, even the asymptomatic people.”

UDM general secretary Bongani Msomi said his party believed the local government elections cannot be free and fair if held under current conditions.

“There are still restrictions that are in place to curb the spread of pandemic. This means parties will not be able to campaign freely, for example, visitors are not welcomed to households, so what type of elections can (be) conducted without door-to-door campaigns? Even big rallies are not allowed.

“The UDM, therefore welcomes the investigation on whether elections if held as perceived would be free and fair. If needs be, it would be a good thing to approach the Constitutional Court. The safety of citizens must be put first,” Msomi said.

The EFF is on record stating that they support the postponement of elections until 2024 so municipal elections can be merged with national and provincial elections.

Spokesperson for Cope, Dennis Bloem said: “We think it is a very sober move to have someone like former Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke to do this assessment, he is a person with integrity and very honest everybody can trust him. We are very comfortable with him there and we will accept his recommendations either way.”

African Christian Democratic Party’s Grant Haskin said their position was that elections must go ahead on the proposed date.

“But if there were to be a postponement it should be no later than February, 2022 and only for the sake of obvious reasons that might very well include Covid-19 related challenges that are projected but those projections need to be legitimate,” he said.

“We can’t expect that voters must be subjected to the same maladministration and corruption and poor political leadership. It should not be postponed or joined from national elections.”

“The by-elections we’ve held since last November until this past Wednesday showed that they can and do work and we’re satisfied that Covid-19 interventions have helped and will help on a broader scale.”

This week, the DA’s John Steenhuisen also called for elections to continue as planned, stating that reviewing the election date would be for the benefit of unprepared parties with no campaign operations during the pandemic.

“The IEC should not bow to the whims of these party-political issues. The constitutional right of each and every South African to cast their vote should not be determined by any party’s preparedness in any election season,” Steenhuisen said.

DA federal chairperson Helen Zille, speaking yesterday on the sidelines of the party’s “Time for Change” virtual rally, said: “We all know very well that the ANC and EFF aren’t ready for the elections and they’ll do everything, even abuse and fakely use the Covid crisis to try and postpone the elections. Now we have to defend South Africa’s people to get their choice of government,” Zille said.

She said that if the elections were postponed once, they would be postponed again and that this would be setting a fatal precedent.

“The abuse of Covid, to centralise all power, to bypass Parliament, to work by decree through command councils that we are being governed by, even that name sounds like something from a communist state.”

She said that South Africans were being conned, adding that her party was the only party that was seeing through the con and would stand up and fight for South Africans whatever it took.

Share this article: