Dikgang Moseneke to lead panel to assess if October elections can be free and fair
'This is the first time in the history of our nascent democracy that we have faced such extraordinary circumstances': former deputy chief justice
The Electoral Commission (IEC) has appointed former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to lead a review process to determine whether it will be possible to hold free and fair elections, currently scheduled for October 27.
The IEC resolved to appoint Moseneke as chairperson of a review panel after concerns that this year's municipal elections may be negatively hampered due to Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that limit full interaction between political parties and their supporters.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the October election date amid calls from some parties, including the EFF, and other political formations, for the polls to be postponed. Those calling for the postponements argued that lockdown regulations did not allow for effective campaigning.
Ramaphosa adamantly announced last month that the elections would be held on October 27.
Millions of South Africans usually take part in elections, and there were concerns that the long queues associated with voting could turn into Covid-19 super-spreader events.
The IEC announced on Thursday that although it believed it would be able to hold the elections freely, fairly and safely, it was not oblivious to the dangers such an event may pose.
IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini said it was important for Moseneke's panel to fortify the commission's decision.
Mashinini said they were emboldened by the holding of about 150 by-elections since the outbreak of the coronavirus in March last year, arguing that this was proof of the commission's capacity to hold elections in the current climate.
“Preparations to host the local government elections are at an advanced stage and the commission is satisfied that it is possible to conduct successful elections within the current circumstances,” said Mashinini.
“The commission is also confident that the special Covid-19 protocols and measures to be put in place for the elections will provide adequate safeguards. These measures have been tested in more than 150 by-elections conducted over the past six months.”
Mashinini added that this did not mean they were oblivious to the unpredictability of the coronavirus pandemic and the risks associated with large gatherings, which is why Moseneke's panel has been tasked with determining whether it would be fair and constitutionally sound to proceed with elections under current lockdown restrictions.
Moseneke said he would establish the office that will undertake this work as soon as Monday. This office would consult all relevant stakeholders, such as political parties, and health and disaster management authorities, who would be requested to submit reports and views on the matter.
Moseneke said how all interested parties handled the matter could have serious implications for the country's democracy.
“When I was called upon by the Electoral Commission to take up this extraordinary assignment, I could not ignore the importance of this undertaking within the context of our ongoing journey to entrench and strengthen democracy in our country,” Moseneke said.
“This is the first time in the history of our nascent democracy that we have faced such extraordinary circumstances. How we respond to these as a country will have far-reaching consequences for our democracy and for our people.”
Mashinini said the IEC commissioners were unanimous in believing that they would be ready to hold the elections in October.
But they deemed it prudent to bring in Moseneke to further assess the situation, to avoid being seen as ignoring the concerns raised by political parties.
He said the IEC would continue preparing for the elections while Moseneke and his team did their work.