Expats excited about opportunity to vote

2014-01-20 13:09
South Africa House in London.

South Africa House in London. (Shutterstock)

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Rowan Philp, The Witness

Pietermaritzburg - South African expats in the UK used car pools, trains and dedicated buses to register to vote abroad for the first time over the weekend - while some living as far as Scotland vowed to travel to London to vote “and celebrate like it’s 1994”.

Taking advantage of the first “registration weekend” at South Africa’s 124 foreign missions, most expats descended on the high commission at Trafalgar Square - and were congratulated with shouts of “Yay! Well done!” by a festive group dressed in South African colours.

However, dozens of would-be voters complained in online forums about miscommunication from embassies and the Independent Electoral Commission, and that locations for registration were far too limited - leaving South Africa’s huge community in Perth, for instance, having to drive two 80-hour round trips to register and vote at Australia’s solitary voting station.

'Passion to vote'

On Sunday, Marc Christensen, a 33-year-old IT professional from Durban, said he and three other KZN expats would “split the gas” and travel from Glasgow to vote in London, on the date yet to be announced by President Jacob Zuma.

“It’s a different story for most of those in Scotland who have not yet registered - I don’t think they’ll be able to make two trips,” said Christensen. “But it's great that we can at least vote this time around - I couldn’t vote in the last election. There’s a big expat community around Glasgow, and the passion to vote is quite amazing - we’ll spend a day or two with other South Africans in London; make a party of it.”

Meanwhile, one South African in Vancouver, Melanie Matthews, offered to provide a lift to the consulate in Los Angeles to other aspirant voters in Vancouver - saying LA was “only” a 19-hour drive away.

Hayley Short - a “Vote Home” volunteer from Durban - spent two cold days outside South Africa House in London, and estimated that 350 had registered on Saturday alone. Saying she spoke to many applicants after registering herself, Short said: “The majority said they were encouraging their friends and family to register and vote, with the general sentiment being ‘you do not have the right to complain unless you act upon your responsibility to vote’. Overall it was a really pleasant day.”

The ANC London branch used social media sites to offer free buses to London for supporters in Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, and Reading. Ayanda Veli, an ANC co-ordinator in Birmingham, said free transport had been arranged for “quite a number” of supporters in England’s second largest city, and that ANC supporters in the UK were “mobilised”.

However, Francine Higham, spokesperson for DA Abroad, claimed only a single ANC bus arrived at South Africa House on Saturday - “and it arrived four hours late; just half-an-hour before registrations closed”.

Over 3 000 expats

Higham said more than 3 000 expats had responded to the DA’s registration campaign in the UK, adding that “many more are already registered”.

Although London saw fewer than 7 500 votes in 2009, Higham said the new provision for foreign registrations could see “tens of thousands” casting their vote in the UK this year.

Short said she had made an abortive first effort to register at the high commission last week - and had only been allowed to register this weekend after the IEC explained its rules to high commission staff.

“I was [initially] refused the opportunity to register and they demanded I prove how I obtained my British passport and that I need to show them the certificate of dual citizenship,” she said. “The IEC dealt with it [and] within a matter of hours SA House had been informed they were not allowed to ask for other documents.”

But Short said: “We are completely blown away by the passion that people have in wanting to ensure a positive future for their home country, especially as many intend on returning home over the next few years.”

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  iec  |  uk  |  elections 2014

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