Expats call for cost effective and fair elections as they head to the polls

Couple, Robin Adams, 44, and his wife, Lee-Anne Adams, 40, who are living and working in Istanbul, Turkiye with their three-year-old daughter, Ayla Grace speak about voting in this national election. Picture: Supplied

Couple, Robin Adams, 44, and his wife, Lee-Anne Adams, 40, who are living and working in Istanbul, Turkiye with their three-year-old daughter, Ayla Grace speak about voting in this national election. Picture: Supplied

Published May 18, 2024


Cape Town - 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.

Voting started in nine countries yesterday, while polling will take place in 109 other countries today and tomorrow.

Voting was expected to take place in Algiers, Amman, Cairo, Damascus, Jeddah, Kuwait City, Ramallah, Riyad and Tehran yesterday.

Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said London has the highest number of expected voters at 24 194, so voting stations will operate today and tomorrow.

“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 Chief Electoral Officer of their intention to vote outside of the country due to temporary absence,” Mamabolo said.

Many expats have expressed dissatisfaction at having to fork out thousands of rand to get to approved voting sites, with 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 cast his 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. It is encouraging that more than double the number of South Africans living or/and working overseas have decided to participate.

“If one considers the vast majority of South Africans living overseas, many of them are not voting because of logistical issues and costs 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 is 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.”

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 is 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.”

Couple Robin and Lee-Anne Adams, who are originally from Cape Town, live and work in Istanbul, Turkiye, with their 3-year-old daughter Ayla, said they would show their patriotism at the polls.

“We plan to dress up in full South African kit with our big SA flags when we head to Ankara to go and vote,” said Robin, a former Weekend Argus assistant editor who works with his wife at English-language TV network, TRT World.

Couple, Robin Adams, 44, and his wife, Lee-Anne Adams, 40, who are living and working in Istanbul, Turkiye with their three-year-old daughter, Ayla Grace speak about voting in this national elections as expats and its challenges as they travel to Ankara to make their mark. Picture: Supplied

Adams said voting was paramount for them, but it meant travelling 323km to the voting station in Ankara.

“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. I believe the IEC can do more to assist expats,” Adams added.

The IEC said the largest international voting stations by population were 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 observe the Sabbath by adjusting operating times from 7am to 11pm 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 South African government and IEC have known about the estimated one million or more South Africans abroad for many years and should have 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.”

Reichert 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 ID 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 cast their ballots at voting stations other than where they are registered.

* Additional reporting by Wendy Jasson Da Costa

Weekend Argus