On the eve of by-elections in 47 voting districts across South Africa, the Electoral Commission yesterday announced that all by-elections that were to be held today are postponed.
The reason given is the order of the Electoral Court that by-elections in Tlokwe Municipality be postponed. The problems in Tlokwe, that led the Constitutional Court to declare 2013 by-elections unfair, still persist. This is a serious indictment on the Electoral Commission.
But it hardly follows that all by-elections should be postponed, with less than 24 hours’ notice.
An enormous amount of resources has already been spent on preparing for by-elections in KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, North West and the Western Cape. Special Votes have already been cast. Voters have arranged transport to voting stations. Party agents have been trained. Electoral officers have been deployed. Voting stations have been set up. Ballot papers have been printed. And parties have been urging people to exercise their right to choose their public representative.
But today, 61 603 voters are being turned away from voting stations. The vacant seats in their municipalities will stay vacant, and they will have no public representative in their wards until a new date is announced for by-elections. Then, all these preparations will need to be done again in a massive duplication of costs and manpower.
This appears to be a nonsensical decision. The only explanation is that electoral fraud and corruption are so pervasive, beyond Tlokwe, that none of these by-elections would have been free and fair. If that is the case, our fears should be raised for a free and fair Local Government Election.
I urge voters not to be discouraged from casting their vote when these by-elections finally take place. Clearly there is need for the voice of the people to be heard. In Abaqulusi in particular, the IFP has witnessed postponements before when our opponents bussed people in to commit electoral fraud. We will remain vigilant in this regard, but we urge the IEC to hold a by-election so that Abaqulusi may empower a leadership they can trust.