Voters roll opinion

Voters roll mess – parliament should hang its head in shame

David Xolile Kham exposed IEC failings
David Xolile Kham.jpg

As much as the Constitutional Court (CC) last week found that the Independent Electoral Commission neglected its duty and that its actions were “inconsistent with the rule of law”, every single party represented in parliament is as guilty.

In fact, every one of them should hang their collective heads in shame that it took “Solomon’s wisdom” – in the words of IEC chairperson Vuma Mashinini – by the CC to save the day for this year’s municipal elections on 3 August.

At issue was the more than 13-year-long failure by the IEC to comply with the stipulation in the Electoral Act’s Section 16(3) that voters rolls should include verifiable addresses for registered voters.

This stipulation became part of the Act by way of an amendment made in parliament in 2003. Some 13 years, three general elections, two nationwide municipal elections and multiple municipal by-elections later, the IEC remains in breach of this dictate of the law.

Parliamentary oversight and monitoring

Members of parliament are sent there by their respective political parties, based on the number of votes they received in general elections.

Once there, members are well remunerated with taxpayers’ money for the primary task of overseeing the performance of the executive and administrative arms of government and monitoring the implementation of the laws of the land.

In the case of the Electoral Act, as amended by parliament it took an independent candidate in a by-election in one of the country’s smaller municipalities, David Xolile Kham, to expose the dangerous dereliction of duty by the IEC, and by implication of our parliamentarians, as we wrote more than a month ago.

This dereliction of duty opened the way for gerrymandering during elections, as the independent candidates during by-elections in the Tlokwe municipality claimed and were vindicated by the Electoral Court.

It is, therefore, also important to note that the CC in its latest ruling, temporarily waving the address requirement for all registered voters, specifically excluded the contested wards in Tlokwe.

About the fact that it has come to this, the CC, going to the extraordinary ruling to suspend an Act of parliament, one can only say to the members of parliament: Shame on you, ladies and gentlemen!

No excuse

And there can be no excuse for what happened. Political parties at the very least did not, at the time of amending the Electoral Act, properly think through the problem posed by the multitude of informal settlements in the country. And on top of that, the Act also does not even contain a definition of a “verifiable address” – bad legislation indeed.

Had they done their homework properly, they would have known, as we reported before, that the IEC indeed has the basic technology available to create ‘GPS addresses’ for all voters.

Neither can political parties, especially the official opposition in parliament, the Democratic Alliance, claim that they were ignorant of the problems that were developing on the ground during election times. The legal representative of Kham and the independent candidates from Tlokwe in their legal battle was the leader of the DA caucus in Tlokwe, Hans-Jurie Moolman.

That one of the key government ministers in this whole saga, Des van Rooyen of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, could, after the CC judgement, say that the whole address issue was “only because of apartheid”, smacks of the response of a responsibility-ducking coward. One shudders at the thought of how nearly he had been the country’s minister of finance.

Hope

One can now only hope that all political parties and their leaders will take note of that part of the delivery of the CC judgement which stated that the concept of free and fair election also “… entails curbing intimidatory and unacceptable conduct and language by political parties and their supporters”.

The future of our democracy, especially over the next six weeks or so, is largely in the hands of political leaders. Let’s hope they will be more vigilant than they have been in their handling of the Electoral Act.

by Piet Coetzer

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