Expats' troubled vote

29 April 2014 - 08:13 By JANA MARAIS

Hundreds of South African expats will be unable to vote in this year's general election because of an alleged government communications botch up.

Voters living abroad will go to the polls tomorrow, exactly a week before citizens at home do so.

The miscommunication has been attributed to a failure by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, and by the Independent Electoral Commission, to tell the expats that they must complete a form if they want to vote.

The error, according to South Africa's High Commissioner to Ghana, Jeanette Ndhlovu, has created a "problem everywhere".

"I've been in touch with my colleagues at other embassies and many other expats also failed to submit the VEC10 forms on time. It will not be possible for them to vote," Ndhlovu told The Times.

The form is a required notification to the IEC of intention to vote. It specifies where the voter wants to cast his ballot.

The deadline for filling in the form was midnight on March 12.

According to South African expats in Ghana, high commission staff in the West African country told them they had to register by February 7 and take a valid identity document and passport to the voting station.

They say they were not told about the VEC10 form, which had to be submitted online.

"At the time of registration I asked what else was required," said one expat in Ghana. "The reply was '. just bring along the piece of paper and your ID'. I became aware of the extra form to be completed only on Friday."

Andy Sarson said the high commission had had ample time in which to send out an e-mail "advising all those registered in Ghana to follow this procedure".

"I feel robbed of the opportunity to vote because of the incompetence of the high commission."

At least 40 of the 130 South Africans in Ghana who registered to vote do not appear on the voters' roll because they did not fill in the VEC10 form.

Ndhlovu said she would ask the IEC if anything could be done to help the expats denied a vote.

She said it "would have helped if the commission [had] reminded expats" to go to the IEC's website to fill in the VEC10 form.

"There are those who have complied and they will be able to vote. But we are left with this mess of people who did not comply."

According to the IEC, there are 26701 South Africans eligible to vote abroad. In the 2009 elections, 9857 South Africans voted abroad.

London has 9863 registered voters (37% of the total eligible voters), Dubai (1539), Canberra (1243), Kinshasa (773) and The Hague (667).

Expats in other parts of the world have slammed the failure in communication.

"We have seen very little, if any, communication. I'm registered on the Registration of South Africans Abroad programme and the mailing lists of the South African embassy in London but I haven't received any communication on the elections," a UK-based expat said.

She said the IEC had done "a bit" of elections advertising on Facebook.

"It has only been [organisations] such as the Vote Home campaign and The DA Abroad that have kept people informed," she said.

An accountant working in Hong Kong had a similar experience.

"I received zero communication from the embassy. If I wasn't subscribed to e-mails from the DA Abroad I wouldn't have known about the registration process or the need to submit the VEC10 form."

Other problems besetting South African expats is the lack of voting stations abroad.

A petition to improve access to voting stations for expats in countries such as Australia was unsuccessful. Large numbers of South Africans have settled in Perth, which is 3720km from Canberra, which has the only South African voting station in that country.

"It is a problem that the IEC requires both a valid passport and an ID book to vote abroad," said The DA Abroad.

"It is also of deep concern that, though voting facilities have been provided for a single person, large South African communities have been effectively disenfranchised because of their distance from a foreign mission," it said.

Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, referred all questions to the IEC .

The IEC had failed to respond at the time of going to press.

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