Herman Mashaba | National, provincial elections should be brought forward to 2021

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Municipal, provincial and national elections must not take place on the same day, writes Herman Mashaba. 

When the Constitutional Court recently ruled that amendments to the Electoral Act were necessary to accommodate independent candidates, many in our country celebrated this first step to electoral reform.

We, however, were not alone in our celebrations as some in the ANC have seen this as an opportunity to align the municipal, provincial and national elections to take place together on the same day.

Their reasoning is that they suffer from low supporter turnout at municipal election level, where even their loyalists cannot get excited about the mayors and councillors who fail them day after day.

By having all levels of elections on one day, they figure their municipal results will improve by virtue of their supporters being more animated to vote at a national or provincial level.

This kind of political manipulation for the benefit of parties and not people is hardly news.

Extending term 

The news came shortly afterwards from none other than ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who spoke of delaying the 2021 local government elections until 2024 to hold all three levels of elections on the same day.

The ANC do not want to fight a local government election next year. In the wake of collapsing service delivery, the recent loss of metros and their disastrous handling of Covid-19, a municipal election next year promises calamity for the ANC.

Delaying the 2021 local government elections to 2024, would amount to extending the term of current municipalities beyond the five-year maximum period prescribed in the Constitution. It would mean councils operating for three years without the constitutional mandate of the voters in those municipalities.

In the context of service delivery collapse, hung councils and widespread corruption, it would be among the greatest threats to our constitutional democracy.

The EFF have already suggested they would support such an amendment to the Constitution, and the DA have remained silent. A 2021 election promises pain for the DA, who continue to stagger from one blunder to another, and the EFF need time to get past the worst of the VBS saga.

The only protection the people of South Africa have from this, is that a constitutional amendment of this nature would be overturned by our Constitutional Court in a matter of five minutes.

Having said this, and perhaps a little mischievously, I would like to offer Ace another option.

Bring the national and provincial elections forward from 2024 to 2021. There are many reasons to support this option:

  • It would not be unconstitutional. Early elections can be declared, shortening the term of office of national and provincial governments. Extending the term of office beyond five years for municipalities would be patently unconstitutional.
  • The handling of Covid-19 in South Africa has been catastrophic, to the point that it could be seen as having created a loss of confidence in government. Our government laid waste to our economy on the premise that the hard lockdown was necessary to prepare our health system. Barely two months later, our health system has been overwhelmed before the worst of the pandemic has hit. Anywhere in the world, when a government fails at these proportions, early elections are held.
  • Cyril Ramaphosa's new dawn has turned out to be nothing short of a sleight of hand. We were promised renewal, hope and real measures to combat corruption. With a Cabinet former president Zuma would recognise, Cyril Ramaphosa has delivered nothing. Not one major prosecution, no clear sense of economic direction, no way out of the debt trap we find ourselves in.
  • The aftermath of the handling of Covid-19 will be the most staggering loss of jobs and livelihoods ever witnessed in South Africa. We went into lockdown with 40% unemployment. It is now predicted that anywhere between 3 and 7 million more people will join the ranks of the unemployed. An early national and provincial election next year would be a necessary referendum on the direction needed to pull South Africans out of unprecedented economic suffering.

If Ace Magashule wants to talk about aligning the elections, he is going to have to bring the 2024 national and provincial elections forward to next year and face the music. Should he attempt to implement the constitutional delinquency of his suggestion to move local government elections to 2024, he should bear this in mind: Our Constitutional Court in South Africa remains one of the few uncaptured institutions capable of protecting South Africans.

Should his proposal proceed, the ANC should be aware there will be a very long line of people waiting to take this matter to the Constitutional Court, and I will be at the front of that queue.

Your move, Ace.

- Herman Mashaba is the founder of the People's Dialogue.

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