How can it be, that more than 20 years on, so many South Africans have no address? This is the question Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Western Cape head Reverend Courtney Sampson posed at a U3A Media and Current Affairs meeting at the Somerset West library hall, on Friday April 22.
In his keynote address on the upcoming municipal election, Mr Sampson addressed the matter of the “Tlokwe judgment”, which highlighted the fact that eight million South Africans, all eligible voters, have no fixed address.
“There is a dignity in having an address. What happens to (those eight million voters)? It is an indication of where we are as a country. We have to look at it compassionately, in a spirit of nation building,” he said.
Mr Sampson’s remarks em-erged from a question about the pending Constitutional Court judgment on the Tlkowe (North West) by-election, which was postponed by the Electoral Court after it found that two thirds of eligible voters have no fixed address.
The Constitutional Court will convene on Monday May 9 to consider the matter, but as Mr Sampson pointed out, the ruling handed down may have grave implications for the local government election, planned for Aug-ust 3, but not yet promulgated.
Constitutionally, the local government election must take place by August 16 at the latest, and a ruling which results in millions of people with no fixed address – typically in informal settlements – being removed from the voters roll, means they will be effectively disenfranchised.
“In 1994, many people had no address but they were allowed to vote,” he said.
“Since then, we have developed techniques for achieving particularity of address in informal settlements (by determining dwelling locations in relation to fixed landmarks), which should be sufficient. The Concourt is faced with a very difficult matter, but however it rules, the IEC will abide by that ruling,” said Mr Sampson.
Turning to the upcoming election, Mr Sampson addressed the issue of public suspicion of IEC staffers. “The public are suspicious of IEC people, and it is uncomfortable to manage an election in such an environment,” he said.
“There is a high level of suspicion, that every mistake we make is deliberate. We have a huge amount of work to do. There is no time to play politics, not for any party, in any way. In the IEC, we have no time for party politics.”
On the matter of voting district boundaries, Mr Sampson explained that the demarcation board, a statutory body, sets municipal and ward boundaries, which can be adjusted form time to time. The IEC ensures that voting districts do not straddle a ward delimitation, which means that if a ward boundary is adjusted, somebody who has voted in a particular voting district before, may well end up in an adjacent voting district, because of the shifting of a ward boundary. “The IEC does not set ward boundaries. All it does is ensure that each voter is registered where they must be in order to vote,” he said. He added, that contrary to popular belief, the IEC will not summarily remove any eligible voter from the voters roll.
Mr Sampson noted that there might be a further registration weekend before August 3 is promulgated as election day. “On the date of promulgation, the voters roll closes,” he said, “but until that happens, it is possible to register as a voter at any IEC office. Registration does not only happen on special registration weekends.”
Mr Sampson urged voters to confirm their registration details by SMSing their ID number to 32810 (SMS costs R1.00), downloading and using the IEC app (Google Play Store and Apple App Store), or browsing to the IEC’s web site at elections.org.za.
Asked about the impartiality of IEC staff engaged for an election, Mr Sampson said: “Any person who has any political party affiliation, cannot work for the IEC.” He added that simply being a member of a political party does not qualify as a party affiliation, but being an office bearer in a political party for example, would.
“On election day, each party will be represented in each voting station by two election agents. They observe and interact with the presiding officer. Everything that takes place in the voting station, happens under party scrutiny,” he said, “and the counting process is also scrutinised by party agents.”
Mr Sampson reflected on the current state of our politics, with specific reference to the recent National Assembly debate on the DA motion of impeachment, following the Constitutional Court ruling on Nkandla, characterising it as a “tyranny of political parties.”
“How you can call what happened that day a debate, I don’t know. Each party voted as a block. Each party left as a block. The concept of a tyranny of political parties arises from the lack of individual freedom to intellectualise about what is good for us and the country,” he said. “Instead we had people screaming at each other, humiliating each other.”
“We, the public, are not saying enough. Our first election on April 27 1994 meant so much to South Africa. It was a peacemaking event, something that South Africans could do together,” he said. “What has it become? Now voters are disrespected and they are harassed.”
“The other problem is, there is much talk of a failed state,” he said. “but we must be careful, because we do not have one. The rhetoric is in any case ideologically divergent – on the one hand the notion that the state has failed us, the privileged, on the other, that the state has failed the poor.”
Turning in conclusion once more to the recent Nkandla judgement and its aftermath, Mr Sampson said: “The president is open to all sorts of criticism, but a significant problem is that he sees himself as first a party member, then a citizen of South Africa. A crucial conversation we must have in the public domain, is about what it means to be a South Africa citizen.”