Civil society groups urge Moseneke Inquiry not to postpone local government elections

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(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
(Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
Duncan Alfreds, News24, file
  • Civil society organisations have told an inquiry headed by Dikgang Moseneke local government elections should not be postponed. 
  • Two bodies told the inquiry safety measures should be put in place. 
  • They said the state of local government was too dire to allow for a postponement of the poll. 

At least two civil society organisations have told an inquiry into whether the local government elections would be free and fair that the country could not afford a postponement of the upcoming poll. 

The inquiry, headed by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, heard voting could take place if safe and reasonable Covid-19 measures were in place.

Some opposition parties have asked for the poll to be postponed, given the spike in Covid-19 infections. 

The inquiry has been hearing oral evidence since Monday. 

The Active Citizens Movement (ACM) said the country could not afford to have elections delayed as local government all over the country was in a dire state in terms of poor governance, lack of service delivery capacity and ongoing corruption.

It added lower government structures would suffer even more if the elections were postponed.

The Helen Suzman Foundation said if there was a risk of Covid-19 infections as a result of voting, the IEC must ensure strict safety measures were adhered to.

The ACM, which echoed the foundation's sentiments, said some of the measures that could be put in place included exploring and implementing (if possible) an electronic or socially distanced system of voting that protected voters from being in contact with each other to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.

ALSO READ | IEC approaches Electoral Court for postponement of Wednesday’s by-elections

"We are saying elections should go ahead if these measures can be met… The sanctity of life is more important and only if these conditions can be met should the elections go ahead. We do not want to risk anybody's life at all. And under those circumstances, perhaps the elections can be held," said the ACM's acting chairperson, Yashica Padia.

She added the number of people across the country who would be vaccinated before the local government elections in October would also determine whether it would be postponed or not.

Padia said:

If there is going to be a postponement then it should be in conjunction with a period where the electorate would be sufficiently protected against Covid-19. In other words, a sufficient number of the population has been vaccinated or has herd immunity … we have to make sure the protection is in place.

Meanwhile, the foundation added postponing the elections should be the last option on the table, saying the timing of Covid-19 waves of infection and their severity were impossible to anticipate. 

It said the scheduled date for elections in October would be in springtime in South Africa and the weather conditions would be ideally suited for outdoor activities, which was commonly accepted to minimise any infection risk.

"Should the Covid-19 situation prove to be of such a disastrous nature in the country in general in the months to come [and therefore much worse than what South Africa has experienced so far], with a potential material effect on the freeness and fairness of the elections that are scheduled in October 2021, the only remedy for the IEC would be to retain the right to postpone elections at short notice.

"This right could only be exercised as an extreme measure and would have to be done as an unavoidable decision in a last-minute emergency," the foundation added.

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