Protect the IEC from politicians

2018-06-17 06:04
Vice-chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission, Terry Tselane. PHOTO: Rosetta Msimango

Vice-chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission, Terry Tselane. PHOTO: Rosetta Msimango

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Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) vice-chairperson Terry Tselane has spoken out for the first time about his feelings about being overlooked for the top position and being labelled an enemy by aggrieved political party leaders.

Tselane has been overlooked twice for the top job at the IEC, which he blames on “political manoeuvrings”.

Although he might not have been promoted, Tselane said he did not allow the fact that he was the most hated commissioner to hinder his work.

“I have been advised that, if a particular category of people don’t like you, then you must wear it as a badge of honour, so I’m wearing it as a badge of honour.”

Tselane said he took inspiration from retired Judge Dikgang Moseneke, who remained focused and professional, and continued to serve with integrity. He said Moseneke had not become chief justice, instead he became the longest-serving deputy chief justice. He was overlooked for promotion three times.

Tselane said that, if one looked at his own track record objectively, with his almost 20 years of experience, he should have been appointed IEC chairperson. He said he had established and run the IEC offices in Gauteng in 1998 and was appointed a commissioner in 2004, serving for seven years.

Tselane said that, when he returned as commissioner for the second time in 2011, Pansy Tlakula was the chief executive officer of the IEC, reporting to the commissioners.

It was during this time that he was appointed vice-chairperson and Tlakula was made chairperson, meaning she was his boss.

Tselane said he had to live with that because “the president, in his wisdom,” thought that a particular person should be there. He said the appointment of IEC chairperson was the prerogative of the president, who at the time was Jacob Zuma.

When Tlakula left the IEC in 2014, Tselane was appointed acting chairperson for more than a year. He was again disappointed when Glen Mashinini was appointed IEC chairperson in October 2015, after being with the organisation for only six months.

“Having been overlooked twice, it means somewhere there are people who manoeuvred and they blocked me from becoming chairperson. I don’t know who or why. But I have decided I’m going to go on with my work.”

Instead, he said, he used Moseneke’s situation as a point of reference.

“Moseneke dealt with it with so much integrity, honour and professionalism, and he was overlooked three times. So he is my role model.”

Tselane, whose term ends in November, has had to put up with pressure and hostility from politicians, particularly those in the ANC.

So fractured were relations that he was confronted by then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and his deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, and was labelled an enemy of the party and accused of conniving with opposition parties against the ANC in the 2016 local government elections.

He said the ANC was upset after losing the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality to the DA, whose leader, Mmusi Maimane, announced results before they were formally released.

Reconciliation efforts had fallen flat and Tselane said the matter was raised in a recent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa, who made an undertaking that he would revert to the commission in time on this issue.

“I felt that I was being unfairly attacked and that it was unnecessary. I was also disappointed because the reality of the situation is that, as a youngster, I grew within the mass democratic movement, I was a student activist, I sacrificed a lot, [only] to be labelled an enemy.”

Tselane said that, when he realised there were people who had got the wrong impression of him, it disappointed and saddened him.

“There has never been a moment in my life running the elections when I’ve not operated with integrity. I don’t understand why such a thing could happen.”

Tselane said he was anxious about leaving office on the eve of the crucial national elections next year.

He said he was also anxious because the majority of the new IEC commissioners had not run elections before, especially national elections.

“It creates a little bit of anxiety because I really love this organisation. Any elements that appear to be unstable might affect the way the country is perceived. So it’s important that new commissioners and the staff of the IEC make it possible for credible elections to take place.”

Tselane said there would be a lot of pressure put on commissioners as the political landscape had changed enormously.

He said IEC commissioners should be isolated from politics and should get the same benefits as judges so that, when they left office, they would be protected.

Tselane said it was difficult for commissioners to be firm or critical because that could be used against them when they left office. He said the same people with whom a commissioner might have had a fight could block his or her prospects of being hired elsewhere.

“It is one of the biggest issues that affect commissioners,” he said.

The IEC has been criticised in the past for political appointments. Mashinini has been accused of being a Zuma lackey, a claim he and the IEC have vehemently denied.

Tselane suggested that the panel – led by the chief justice – that interviewed candidates should be given the power to make recommendations on who should be IEC chairperson and vice-chairperson.

“For as long as we do not rectify the way in which the IEC heads are appointed, there is no way that we are going to avoid people being associated with whoever is a president at that time.”

Tselane is preparing to start his own elections management organisation that wil operate internationally. He will continue to play a role in the electoral space as a senior adviser to the Association of World Election Bodies.

What should be done to protect the IEC from political interference?

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