South Africa, Politics

Take Two: Let the municipal poll roll on, says Des van Rooyen

By Marianne Merten 14 April 2016

The state of preparedness for the 3 August local government elections, Take Two. It’s all systems go, according to Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen on Wednesday. Surrounded by security ministers of state security, police and defence, Van Rooyen said there was no reason why the municipal elections should be postponed in what turned out to be a lightweight, perfunctory media briefing. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

Off the table were all and any questions about Van Rooyen’s day trip to Dubai in December 2015 coinciding with the presence there of members of the Gupta family. There simply was nothing to be said that hadn’t been said before: it was a private trip, paid for personally. That’s the line taken by the ANC backbencher turned finance minister (for four days before being moved to the co-operative governance portfolio) in what is known as 9/12, the saga that wiped R177-billion of the markets. Van Rooyen stuck to it.

Ideally, the minister said, he would have liked to formally proclaim the municipal poll date recently announced by “his excellency” President Jacob Zuma.

All issues the proclamation is dependent on have been resolved except the Constitutional Court (matter).”

Yes, that prickly matter of a pending Constitutional Court hearing on 9 May regarding the need for significantly verifiable places of residence required next to each voter’s name.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) approached South Africa’s highest court over what exactly it meant by significantly verifiable addresses in its November 2015 judgment – and to ask for a break of this requirement until June 2020. In its court papers the IEC says it was unable to provide verifiable places of residences for the 16.2-million voters registered with missing, incomplete or generic addresses. It did not focus on recording full residential details, as its officials only had to be satisfied voters lived in the correct area.

The court’s unanimous judgment in November 2015 stemmed from the controversial by-elections steeped in ANC factional politicking in Tlokwe, North West, where voters were bused in to register in wards where they do not live). The IEC later asked the Constitutional Court to order that it does not have to provide addresses for registered voters before June 2020.

Van Rooyen remained upbeat about the case, to which he and the home affairs minister are now party, because “the court will not seek to disenfranchise voters” and, in any case, “the assignment of addresses does not fall within the mandate of the IEC”. Huh? A 2003 amendment to the Electoral Act stipulates addresses on the voters’ roll, which should be provided to political parties under Section 16(3). And in local government elections, the Constitutional Court in November 2015 found that residential details are key; councillors are elected to represent wards so there is a direct connection between residents’ interests and concerns and municipalities. (The other councillors are proportional representatives appointed on the basis of the number of votes cast for a political party.)

Van Rooyen said government now is focusing on “concentrated efforts” to provide addresses. Statistics South Africa and the Post Office are developing geographical signifiers that would double up to verify a voter’s place of residence. But efforts are limited to 16 wards where by-elections were postponed two months ago, including Tlokwe where the independent candidates again had to approach the courts over concerns about addresses on the voters’ roll.

What we did get from Minister on Wednesday was a well done to the IEC for registering more voters. And a thank you to the IEC, Municipal Demarcation Board, municipalities, traditional leaders, law enforcement agencies, faith-based organisations, government officials, the media, political parties “and many others” for ensuring a successful voter registration process.

There was a summary of the voter registration numbers (an additional 1.3-million South Africans), and a condemnation of the 40 or so protests over the voter registration weekend, including Vuwani, Limpopo, where ministers, officials and others are engaging the community.

Obviously the minister was not happy about community protests over services during the voter registration weekend. And since such protests were fuelled by, among others, political contestation, more were expected. Enter the security forces, including intelligence: “We have met as a collective and have identified several municipalities where the threat of disruptions exists.” Various activities, including outreach by the justice, crime prevention and security cluster, are planned.

The security ministers remained silent.

Fresh from his first Imbizo Focus Week, Van Rooyen identified the lack of communication as a key reason behind the community protests over service delivery. “Besides urging voters to register, we also spoke to citizens and took note of their concerns, especially around service delivery,” said Van Rooyen of this experience.

As the back-to-basics, or B2B municipal programme enters its second phase, South Africans can now expect a range of exiting initiatives to ensure “more positive community experiences”, including ward-based service delivery dashboards and the use of text messages as “responsive community feedback mechanisms”.

That B2B would lay the foundation for the new crop of councils, he said: “We think it’s all systems go. We don’t see any reason why we should postpone the elections. On 3 August we will render another free and fair local government election”.

And so the narrative of the ‘good story’ is set. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma with Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs Minister David Van Rooyen during National House of Traditional Leaders sitting at Tshwane Council Chambers in Pretoria. (Photo: GCIS) 7 April 2016

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