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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Civil society calls on citizens to protect SA’s democracy by becoming election observers

Civil society calls on citizens to protect SA’s democracy by becoming election observers
With so much at stake in what is expected to be the most contested national election since 1994, a call has been made for for as many SA citizens as possible to register to be election observers. (Photo: De Rebus / Wikipedia)

2024 is a big year for elections and not just for South Africa. With so much at stake in the highly anticipated National and Provincial elections, as many South Africans as possible must take up the call and protect the validity and integrity of the election by becoming election observers, Ground Work Collective’s Mbali Ntuli and Defend Our Democracy’s Zaakirah Vadi tell Daily Maverick.

On 29 May 2024, millions of South Africans will head to the polls in what is anticipated to be the most contested National and Provincial elections since 1994.

With the addition of independent candidates to this election cycle and over 300 new and long-standing political parties expected to vai for the presidency this year, there is a lot at stake, and concerns have arisen over the validity and integrity of the election.

Several parties are already working to undermine the legitimacy of this election. Representatives of Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party have made several statements threatening anarchy if they do not get their way in the polls.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Crystal ball — weighing up threats, opportunities that face SA in critical 2024 elections

During the final voter registration weekend, the Democratic Alliance accused the Patriotic Alliance of intimidation after several men in PA t-shirts were seen carrying assault rifles at a voter registration station in Eerste River in the Western Cape.

Additionally, City Press reported in February that over 40 incidents of intimidation were recorded between the ruling ANC and the newly formed MKP since the controversial party was formed.

In February, the parties in the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) made waves when they penned a letter to international governments and organisations pleading with them to send election observers to protect the integrity of the elections.

While the MPC expressed confidence in the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC) ability to manage the elections effectively, the grouping stated, “The certain loss of a national ANC majority this year means that the efforts to capture this election will be greater than ever before. We recognise that our domestic efforts to ensure electoral integrity can and must be shored up.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: IEC must act urgently against threats of electoral violence in SA

President Cyril Ramaphosa also previously sounded the alarm on foreign powers interfering in the national polls as retaliation to South Africa’s ICJ case against Israel.

These are just a few examples of real threats to the highly anticipated elections, and this is why, with so much at stake, the elections need you.

Khayelitsha residents during the 2019 general elections queuing at voting stations on 8 May, 2019 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

Become an election observer

While many citizens may believe that casting their vote in the polls is the only way to exercise their civic duties, this could not be further from the truth. Any Citizen has the right to take up the call and become an election observer.

According to the United Nations, election observation is one of the vital tools for improving the quality of elections.

“Observers help build public confidence in the honesty of electoral processes. Observation can help promote and protect the civil and political rights of election participants,” the international body said on its website.

Ground Work Collective (GWC) founder and CEO Mbali Ntuli echoed this sentiment, telling Daily Maverick that election observation is one of the best ways to be an active citizen.

Mbali Ntuli, elections, election observers

Mbali Ntuli, founder of Ground Work Collective. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

“One of the great things about our democracy is that it’s open enough for everyone to participate in. Most South Africans haven’t been able to do so beyond voting in the last three decades, but election observation is one of the very active ways that people can, on election day, actively protect their democracy. And all they have to do is volunteer their time,” Ntuli said.

GWC is one of the organisations that has created a campaign to help register and train election observers. According to Ntuli, GWC is fully accredited by the IEC, which allows people to log onto the organisation’s portal and volunteer in different wards to become election observers.

Stressing the importance of being an election observer, Ntuli said, “There are many wards that are going to be on the margins because there are two, maybe three dominant political parties. In those instances, we want as many eyes on our ballots as possible. This is about making sure the IEC had any information of intimidation, bullying, or if things aren’t going the way they should be going.”

Similar to GWC, Defend Our Democracy (DOD) has its own observer campaign called Election Watch. Speaking to Daily Maverick, DOD’s Zaakirah Vadi said independent election observers give the electoral process an added sense of legitimacy and credibility.

“Observing an election is very practical and meaningful. As elections become more contested, the presence of election observers in voting stations acts as a deterrent for untoward behaviour,” Vadi said. Many voters will already be at stations to cast their vote, so why not just take a couple of hours out of the public holiday and become an observer?”

How it works

While registering for accreditation directly through the IEC is only open to registered organisations, citizens who want to take part in election observation don’t have to miss out on the opportunity.

Both GWC and DOD are helping ordinary citizens become election observers.

Vadi explained after individuals have registered on the election watch site, DOD will link them with organisations in their locality that can take on more observers and register interested people through DOD.

After registering, you will be taken through training sessions and dry runs that will equip you with the knowledge of what to look out for and which situation must be escalated.

You can register to be an election observer through DOD’s Election Watch Campaign here and through GWC’s observer portal here.

Alive to the reality they cannot be at all the over 23,000 voting stations, GWC and DOD have created apps in all 11 official languages. On the day of the election, observers from around the country will sign in and report what is happening at voting stations.

“We give you a checklist that you can go through on the app or on your phone to say, yes, the station opened on time, ballot papers arrived on time, and so on. All of that information comes back to me and the other coordinators of the different provinces in real time. That allows us to help the IEC stay up to date if we see anything or catch anything,” Ntuli explained.

Vadi said the added benefit of registering through Election Watch is that feedback can be sent to the IEC on the day of the election rather than several weeks after the election.

“So while you’re at the voting station, you simply use your phone, you go onto the app and you send your information through immediately. And that gives us a sense in real time around what’s taking place at voting stations,” Vadi said

South Africa’s democracy doesn’t have to be a spectator sport, and the role you play in the electoral process does not have to be restricted to merely casting your vote. Becoming an election observer will offer you a front-row seat to what is bound to be the most exciting election in SA’s history. Beyond that, it is a great opportunity to take up the call to ensure the elections are protected from anything that could threaten our young democracy.

“We can’t allow for a situation where we just hope that the IEC or other people are going to do what’s needed in our country. We all have to get involved if we want to see our country become the democracy that it should be,” Ntuli said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    Great idea. My main question is the safety of the observers given the existing threats and that they have to back to their local potentially very divided communities given the number of registered parties.

    On that note, is impartiality of the observers a concern?

    • District Six says:

      Observers have no role in the operation of a polling station. They are there to “observe” and make report about their observations. All political parties have the right to post authorised observers inside polling stations. There’s no question of impartiality, since there are sufficient checks and balances built into the balloting system. And when votes are counted they also tally the blank ballots. Thus, if a certain station was issued 10,000 ballots and 6,000 votes were cast, the station officials have to verify and sign off on 6,000 used ballots plus 4,000 unused ballots. The structures within the polling station have to sign off, and that includes the accredited party officials present. A veteran of four elections.

  • District Six says:

    Absolutely, we need to be active citizens. Elections require citizen involvement.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Unfortunately the majority of South Africans are still too politically naive and cultural to be impartial….in my opinion!

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