Johannesburg - The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) on Tuesday accepted the Constitutional Court's ruling that local government elections should proceed despite the discrepancies in the voters’ roll.
IEC chairperson Vuma Mashinini expressed appreciation of the court’s work.
"We thank the court for its judgment and the way it handled the matter. It was a judgment that was considered Solomon’s wisdom," said Mashinini.
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Mashinini said the court understood the complexities that had faced the IEC, and that they were happy to have received a solution.
"The judgment that has been made now gives us what we were looking for, which is the clarity and certainty as to what is the way forward," he said.
Asked whether they would be able to meet the June 2018 deadline given to them by the court, Mashinini said they would explore all their options.
Mogoeng gave the IEC 18 months to fix the defects and obtain outstanding addresses of millions of registered voters.
'We have confidence in our courts'
This order, however, did not include by-elections. For by-elections, the IEC needed to ensure that it had all the voters' addresses on the roll.
The African National Congress welcomed the ruling.
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"We appreciate the sensitivity of the Constitutional Court to the need to balance the guarantee of participation in the upcoming elections by all citizens of the republic, whilst instructing the IEC to improve its data capturing systems," spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said in a statement.
The party said this reaffirmed the ANC’s long-held view that no one should be prevented from voting.
"The ANC acknowledges and supports the need for improvements in the collection and registration of personal details of all voters," she said.
The ANC called on the nation to co-operate with the IEC to ensure that their details were properly captured ahead of the deadline.
Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen, who chairs the inter-ministerial committee on local government elections, said the judgment "strengthens our constitutional democracy by affirming the right of millions of South Africans to vote".
"We have confidence in our courts and we knew that, as impartial and final arbiters on all legal questions in our country, the Constitutional Court would provide clarity in this case."
'IEC has not fulfilled its legal obligations'
The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs noted and welcomed the ruling, saying it would "follow the elections and engage the IEC to establish the steps the organisation will take to remedy the defects on the voters' roll".
Freedom Front Plus chairperson Pieter Groenewald said said the judgment made it clear that the integrity of the IEC was "suspect".
"The judgment makes it clear that the IEC had not fulfilled its legal obligations with regards to the voters roll and this judgment of the Constitutional Court is a compromise in the interest of democracy to allow the elections to go ahead on 3 August."
The case had stemmed from a November 2015 Constitutional Court ruling that the 2013 Tlokwe by-elections in the North West were not free and fair.
The African National Congress had won all the contested wards, except one.
The independent candidates included former ANC councillors expelled in July 2013 for participating in removing an ANC mayor.
Before the by-elections, the candidates had lodged objections with the IEC over voter registrations in their respective wards.
In six wards, the applicants complained of delays in receiving the segments of the national voters’ roll to be used for the by-elections.
These segments also did not include the residential addresses for any voters.
The candidates approached the Electoral Court for an order that the by-elections be postponed, but the court was unable to convene to hear the application.
The by-elections went ahead and six of the candidates lost.
Following the by-elections, the IEC conducted its own investigation into the allegation that voters not entitled to register in these wards had been registered, and that their participation had affected the by-election results.
It found that 1 040 people had been incorrectly registered on the segments of the voters' roll for the affected voting districts.
Following these revelations, the Constitutional Court set the by-election results aside. These were to be re-contested in February this year, with all new voters required to provide details of their address or sufficient details of where they lived in order for them to be placed in a voting district.
The Tlokwe by-elections, however, were halted just a day before they were to take place.
This was after independent candidates examined the voters’ roll and discovered that over 4 000 voters’ addresses were still outstanding. They challenged the validity of the voters’ roll with the Electoral Court and were successful in their bid.
In response, the IEC launched an urgent application with the Constitutional Court in April.
It argued that the Electoral Court’s interpretation of the November 2015 judgment was wrong, and that it was only obliged to furnish voters’ addresses which it had in its possession.
The commission said that, before 2003, it was not required to keep addresses of voters and it highlighted that the lack of a voters’ address did not make the voting roll irregular.
The commission revealed that around eight million dwellings did not have an address and that many of these did not have a tar road running next to them.
Last month, Parliament was told that the IEC was without the proper addresses for up to 46% of the more than 26 million people registered to vote in the August elections.
Had the Constitutional Court ruled otherwise, this would have resulted in millions of registered voters being disqualified from casting their votes because of their outstanding addresses.