The Helen Suzman Foundation Has Made Submissions To The Inquiry Into Ensuring Free And Fair Local Government Elections During Covid-19

The Helen Suzman Foundation (“HSF”) has made submissions to the Inquiry into Ensuring Free and Fair Local Government Elections during COVID-19 (“the Inquiry”), in response to an invitation to do so from Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

In its submission, the HSF points out that the central question facing the Inquiry is whether the overall impact of the COVID-19 pandemic would affect political activity and campaigning, voter participation and the administrative aspects of the elections to the degree that the elections could not be viewed as free and fair.

The HSF wishes to point out that it is impossible to predict the timing and severity of the coming waves of infection. In addition, there is much uncertainty as to the roll-out of the vaccination programme.  However, if the scheduled elections in October were to proceed in a period with low infection rates and with most of the election activities taking place out of doors with all existing safety protocols in place, then it is the HSF's submission that the elections could proceed, as the elections would be considered free and fair.

Quite apart from the issues surrounding the pandemic, there is a very important point which has not received much public attention.  A postponement is undesirable due to the dire state of local government which has been highlighted in recent press reports on the breakdown in water, road maintenance and electricity provision in many municipal areas. The extremely serious nature of the problem is also shown by the Auditor-General in her report to parliamentary committees just over a week ago.  In her presentation, she stated that:

  • there is significant doubt that 27% of local government entities are able to continue as a going concern; and
  • 46% of recoverable revenue of municipalities is spent on salaries and council remuneration but only 2% of expenditure goes towards maintenance.

Any postponement of the elections could only lead to a further deterioration in this regard.

In trying to decide whether the elections should take place or not, there are therefore many variables aspects that have to be taken into account  -  some of them, especially the infection rate and vaccination progress, are impossible to predict 4 months in advance.  It is our submission that the IEC will only be able to take a decision closer to the time, after taking all relevant aspects into account, especially that of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media Enquiries

Sophie Smit