Decision on whether to hold elections this year must 'not be clouded by populist antics nor by false assurances': Cosatu

29 June 2021 - 20:18
By nonkululeko njilo AND Nonkululeko Njilo
Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said it was important to keep in mind that the threat to life was larger than what the numbers were showing.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo/ Sunday Times Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said it was important to keep in mind that the threat to life was larger than what the numbers were showing.

The decision on whether SA should go ahead with elections in October should be handled with sobriety to avoid plunging the country into a constitutional crisis.

This was the view expressed by Cosatu's parliamentary co-ordinator Matthew Parks on Tuesday. 

He was speaking at the Moseneke inquiry, which is conducting public hearings into the affect of Covid-19 on conditions conducive for the holding of free and fair elections later this year. 

“The decision must be guided by the need to save lives. This is a decision that must be handled with the necessary sobriety and not clouded by populist antics nor by false assurances. It is a decision that must be made soon to avoid plunging the country into a constitutional crisis or into an unmanageable fourth wave,” he said. 

The union appeared not to have taken a position on whether the elections should take place on October 27, the date earlier pronounced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

“If local elections can be held safely in October and in a manner that it is seen to be free and fair, then they should be held.  But if the pandemic is surging, too few people have been vaccinated, restrictions remain in place that will make free and fair election campaigning impossible, there is insufficient voter registration, and the IEC cannot provide the necessary health and safety measures for election day, then they must be postponed.

“If a postponement is required, then a new election must be set for February 2022 to provide sufficient time to ensure most South Africans would have received their vaccines and to avoid clashing with the December holidays when millions of workers and students return to their homes in the rural areas.”

Meanwhile, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) submitted that the elections can and should proceed as planned as there had not been sufficient evidence to suggest they would be unfair or endanger lives of voters.

“The 2021 local government elections can and should proceed as planned. There is already a large body of evidence to suggest that national elections can and have been conducted under all manner of conditions without unduly harming either the health or the political rights of a country’s populace.  

“This should not, however, be used as an excuse for stakeholders to become careless in their preparations and response to holding elections during the pandemic. Ultimately, the success or lack thereof in holding elections under Covid-19 conditions will be determined by stakeholder behaviours and compliance with safety guidelines,” it said in a joint statement.  

The executive chairperson of the Institute for Election Management Services in Africa (IEMSA), Jerry Tselane, told the inquiry to consider postponing the elections to May next year.  This would afford political parties time and space to rearrange their campaigns to reach their electorate, he said. 

“If a political party is not able to excite its constituency to register during the registration process such a party would be at a disadvantage going into the elections. The current dilemma is whether political parties should use their limited resources and work within the current Covid-19 constraints to push for registration, or to await the outcome of the enquiry. 

“This anxiety is further contributing negatively to an environment of free and fair elections,” he said. 

Earlier, the commission heard oral submissions from Wits University vaccinologist Prof Shabir Madhi and the head of the SA National Aids Council, Dr Fareed Abdullah, who both poured cold water on the feasibility of holding elections this year.  

They cited among others fears of a possible fourth wave of the pandemic and the slow rate of the country's vaccination roll out programme. 

The commission chairperson, former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke, expressed his gratitude to stakeholders who had appeared or submitted their submissions to the inquiry.

“As we move towards elections, we should keep in mind that the threat to life is much larger than the immediate numbers tend to show,” said Moseneke.

“I am most grateful for this presentation, not only because I need all the help I can find from health scientists, [but] also because it's really so vital, the extent to which you can prevent doing any harm to others through the decisions we make.”  

Moseneke has given himself about seven weeks to complete his inquiry after which he will submit a report on his findings to the IEC.