By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
The Electoral Commission says it is finalising the finer details ahead of the local government elections, now that President Cyril Ramaphosa has set the date for 27 October 2021.
Briefing media on Thursday, Chief Electoral Officer, Sy Mamabolo, said the announcement allows the Electoral Commission and all other stakeholders to begin their preparations to ensure South Africa’s sixth municipal council elections are free, fair and safe.
Mamabolo said the commission on Thursday met with leaders and representatives of political parties in the National Party Liaison Committee to discuss a range of issues relating to the elections.
The meeting was also attended by Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, along with Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and Home Affairs Deputy Minister Njabulo Nzuza.
Mamabolo said the meeting is part of the commission’s ongoing consultations and engagements with all the key stakeholders to plan and prepare for the elections.
"The meeting discussed, among other things, the date announced by the President, progress in the administrative planning for the elections, and issues related to the health and safety of participants under the continued COVID-19 pandemic.
"Political parties were also invited to raise any issues or concerns regarding the elections, including the impact of COVID-19 on conditions conducive to free and fair elections,"Mamabolo said.
Mamabolo said a number of parties tabled their concerns regarding restrictions on political gatherings and other constraints to campaigning under the current national state of disaster regulations.
Some parties have proposed postponing the elections in light of the pandemic, while others indicated their view that the elections should proceed under special COVID-19 protocols, as part of "the new normal".
"The commission shared with the parties its analysis of the Constitution and other legal implications regarding any possible postponement. Its position, which is supported by the opinion of Senior Counsel, has been guiding the commission in its preparations and its consultations with the Minister of CoGTA and the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Elections, among others.
"The central view of this opinion is that a postponement to the elections would only be possible following a statutory amendment. With this in mind, the Commission has proceeded to plan for the holding of Local Government Elections within the current constitutional timeframe," Mamabolo said.
Mamabolo said the commission will deliberate on the issues, concerns and suggestions raised by parties to consider how these may be accommodated.
Voter registration campaign
The first aspect for preparation for the elections is that of voter registration.
The commission will soon embark on a national voter registration campaign to facilitate and encourage participation in the elections, by as many eligible voters as possible.
"This campaign will include an extensive communication and education drive across multimedia platforms, along with targeted interventions aimed specifically at first-time voters. These will include registration initiatives at schools, tertiary education campuses and other opportunities.
"This campaign will culminate in a national voter registration weekend, during which all voting stations will open between 8am and 5pm to allow new voters to register and existing voters to change, update and check their registration details.
"The dates for this weekend will be announced soon, following consultations with various stakeholders, "Mamabolo said.
The commission reminded voters that there will be only one general voter registration weekend due to resource constraints.
Mamabolo called on all eligible voters – especially first-time voters – to ensure they are ready to register to participate, including obtaining identity documents, where necessary.
"We also urge all parties, the media, civil society and others to work with us to promote and encourage participation among all South Africans, so that we can continue the increase in turnout, which we have seen during the most recent local government elections."
Candidate nominations for ward
Mamabolo said other key preparations will include finalising candidate nominations for ward and PR (Proportional Representation) lists for the more than 10 000 seats to be contested for in 205 local municipalities, eight metros and 44 district councils.
"This will primarily be managed via the Online Candidate Nomination System. Candidate nominations are scheduled to take place during August and September. Arrangements will also be put in place for special votes.
"In this regard, the Electoral Commission notes proposals by a number of political parties for all opportunities to be explored – including extending eligibility for special voting – to reduce congestion at voting stations on Election Day. The commission will consider all possible measures within the legal framework and will announce further details on special voting in due course," Mamabolo said.