20 July 2016
Ms Renate Tenbusch, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung,
Professor Jaap de Visser, Dullah Omar Institute,
Mr Paul Berkowitz, EDGIS
Ms Ilona Tip, Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa,
Ms Nompumelelo Runji, Facilitator,
Leadership of the Wits School of Governance,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. It is indeed my pleasure to be here, more so as we meet during Mandela Month. Events across the world, from Baton Rouge (USA) to Nice (France), have reminded us of the fragile nature of democracy and the need to continually safeguard our hard-won gains. In South Africa this is an exercise we have been continually engaged with since 1994.
On behalf of the government of South Africa, our heartfelt gratitude goes out to the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Dullah Omar Institute and the Wits School of Governance for your collaboration in producing the, “Electing Councillors: A Guide to the Municipal Elections.” It is indeed a timeous publication as we stand on the verge of our fourth fully democratic elections in exactly 2 weeks time. With the hullabaloo that often accompanies elections this guide is a timely reminder of the serious nature of our work and the rules that are there to ensure a free and fair election. The guide covers such issues as voter and party registration, ward candidates and party lists, and the process on voting day and the counting of votes.
Having marked 15 years of democratic local government it is vital that we do not take our democratic gains for granted. I fear some parties may need it more than others as they contest the local government elections for the first time. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has indicated that 200 political parties and over 61 000 candidates will contest these elections. Compared to the 2011 local government elections, this election will cater for 65 percent more parties and 12 percent more candidates. It bears mentioning that 60 percent of the candidates are men and 40 percent are women – so we are some way off from reaching our 50/50 gender parity that we were hoping for. Unfortunately, not all political parties have embraced this principle as the one I belong to. However, the Electoral Guide will go some way towards demystifying the elections for both ordinary citizens and future potential candidates. Democracy and all its attendant processes and procedures are still somewhat new in South Africa and the more we do to elucidate them, the better chance we have of producing a more representative democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last month we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprisings. The actions of the youth of 1976 were an important step in charting the course of our liberation. Many paid with their lives so that we can enjoy this democracy. The IEC has revealed that the two voter registration weekends produced over 1,3 million new registrations. It is perhaps fitting that almost 80 percent of these are citizens under the age of 29 years. To many of these first-time voters, the Elections Manual will offer an in-depth look into the electoral process, informing of them of their rights and responsibilities.
As many of you already know the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Ministry chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Elections. The IMC is tasked with overseeing the smooth running of the elections and includes stakeholders such as the IEC, the Municipal Demarcation Board, Stats SA and various government departments, including the South African Police Services.
Following, and prior to, the Constitutional Court judgment, Stats SA has been hard at work in providing addresses to voters without addresses. It is important to mention that there was no intentional effort to not capture the addresses of voters, by the IEC. Simply put, there are over 8 million voters without formal addresses, as we know it, such as a street or postal address. It has been a complicated, time-consuming and arduous process to give geo-coded identifiers to those with informal addresses. It is one that is still ongoing and will require further funding to comply fully with the ConCourt’s ruling.
The IEC has held a number of national, provincial and local government elections that have been free and fair. We have no doubt that the forthcoming local government elections will be no exception. Among the innovations that the IEC has introduced for these elections are the online submission of candidates’ lists, online payment of election deposits and the application by SMS for Special Votes at voting stations.
The IEC follows a strict legislative process in working towards free and fair elections. The Constitutional Court recently upheld the IEC’s decision to disqualify political parties and independent candidates who had not complied with the requirements to contest the elections, such as the timeous payment of their deposits. It is important to note that the IEC has indicated that it is aware that there are political parties who are set on contesting the outcome of the election results, even before they are held. The Elections Manual will go some way towards ensuring that all concerned are aware of the electoral processes to be followed in the run-up to the elections and the counting of votes and declaration of results. The IEC is an old hand at this game and we have full faith that they will carry out their responsibilities diligently.
While we are fully aware of the challenges that this election brings, it’s important that we acknowledge the progress that we have made. Not many people remember that our very first elections were held with the KwaZulu-Natal province being under a state of emergency as a result of the internecine violence in the run-up to the elections. Security measures are already in place for this year’s elections. Hotspot areas have been identified and it is a testimony to our growing democratic culture that there are no no-go areas for any political party, as was the case previously.
This year’s local government election is important for another reason. It will see a reduction in the number of municipalities from 278 to 257. This is an important step in consolidating our democracy as we seek to improve local government efficiencies. Many of the municipalities that are being done away with are simply not financially viable or sustainable. We cannot keep propping up municipalities that have proven to be dysfunctional at worst and inept at best. Our Back to Basics programme, started in September 2014, identified those municipalities with such challenges and since then we have taken measures to rehabilitate those that can be fixed and work towards amalgamating those who would not survive on their own. We have established provincial local government transition task teams to fast-track the amalgamation of municipalities. Moving into the next term of local government, we believe these new municipalities will better serve our communities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I mentioned earlier, we meet during Mandela Month, a time for both reflection and revitalisation. In a statement after voting in the first democratic elections our esteemed icon Tata Madiba had this to say:
“Our message is that the basic needs of the masses of the people must be addressed: the creation of jobs, of houses, the introduction of electricity, building of schools and hospitals, providing free, compulsory quality education, running water, paved roads. These are our priorities.”
Too often in the clanging and jangling that elections bring we tend to lose sight of how much we have achieved. Certainly we believe that this government has changed the lives of our people for the better. I was fortunate to spend Mandela Day with the Community Work Programme in Ventersdorp. It reminded us of how much we have achieved as a democratic government, and the road still to be travelled. Our efforts may not have changed the world, but they have impacted on the lives of ordinary people who have placed their faith in us through the ballot box. Our efforts have made their world, a better one to live in. The Elections Manual that we have produced together will contribute to that better world.
I thank you.