Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) today launched its mobilisation campaign for the upcoming 2021 local government elections, scheduled for 27 October under the theme Every Voice Together. The event was attended by a virtual audience which included diplomats, members of Parliament, and members of election management bodies across the SADC region.

Dr Nomsa Masuku introduced the panel of IEC commissioners – chairperson Glen Mashinini, CEO Sy Mamabolo, vice chairperson Janet Love, Mosotho Moepya, and Judge Dhaya Pillay. Masuku is also a commissioner.

Aimed at attracting young people who are under-represented on the voters roll, the campaign seeks to change this situation.

But this might be a challenge. “To convince young people to vote in the local government election will be a tall order based on the continued bad hand they’ve been dealt,” said Corruption Watch project coordinator Mzwandile Banjathwa. “One wonders how they haven’t revolted. But maybe this is the opportunity to revolt, to revolt against the old guards in the form of established political parties who’ve been serving empty promises, but for this revolt young people will have to go to polls in numbers and best express what they’re revolting for.”

Young voters have had fewer opportunities to register than older voters, said Mamabolo, and also tend to operate in a digital and online ecosystem. They would seek a more accessible and convenient way of registration, and the IEC is consulting with stakeholders, he added, and hopes to make an announcement at the conclusion of the consultations.

With the 45th anniversary of the 16 June Soweto youth uprising around the corner, said Mashinini, it was in no small part because of that long-ago defiance of apartheid that South Africa adopted a democratic constitution, years later. “We owe these brave freedom fighters the continued defence of our hard-won democracy.”

A modern-day revolt need not take exactly the same path, said Banjathwa. “I think our revolt can take a more systematic approach, but like the youth of ‘76 we ought to be organised and vote for substance rather than being swayed by the sentiment of the past.”

South African youth have an opportunity to usher in a new brand of leaders with fresh ideas and commitment to their cause, he added.

Sabeehah Motala, also a project coordinator at Corruption Watch, agreed. “Leadership is not currently representative of young people – leaders are older, and not necessarily consumed with the same issues that face youth. The local government election is our opportunity to directly elect leaders that we think are capable and interested in raising our issues and in considering young people when talking about or implementing service delivery.”

The youth have to take this opportunity seriously, Motala said. “We, young people, will be picking up the pieces for decades to come if we don’t carefully and robustly exercise our civic rights, both at the ballot box and after, to hold our local representatives accountable.”

Ready for action

The IEC has been challenged by the current unprecedented conditions, said Mashinini, and could not be oblivious to the threat posed by the pandemic to the South African people, economy, and democracy.

There were enormous ramifications to both postponing and proceeding with elections.

The balancing act the commission is grappling with is that on one hand elections could become a Covid superspreader, and on the other is the constitutional imperative that free and fair elections must be held within 90 days after the expiry of the prescribed maximum five-year term of office of legislatures and municipal leaders.

“We dare not let the pandemic take away the voice of the people. Elections are not about political parties or the IEC, but about ordinary people coming together to determine the future of our cities, towns, neighbourhoods and communities, in an expression of the will of the people.”

To this end, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke is conducting an independent review of what constitutes free and fair elections under the present abnormal conditions. “This will help guide the commission and all of us in better understanding the requirements for free and fair elections, now and in the future,” Mashinini said.