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SADC and EU election observers have arrived, with the African Union and others still expected

SADC and EU election observers have arrived, with the African Union and others still expected
Southern African Development Community election observers at a rally for independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni in Marondera, Zimbabwe, on 21 March 2008. (Photo: Reuters / Howard Burditt)

The SADC and EU teams will be joined by missions from the Commonwealth and Pan African Parliament, among others.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the European Union (EU) have arrived in South Africa to observe the 29 May elections.

A large election observation mission from the African Union (AU), headed by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, is also being deployed here. 

While the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) was unable to confirm the list on Sunday night, missions from the Commonwealth, the Pan African Parliament, the SADC Parliamentary Forum and possibly others are expected. 

South Africa’s own Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, an expert organisation which deploys election observation missions throughout the continent, is also expected to deploy one for the elections, among other local observers. 

The SADC is deploying a full mission headed by the former Zambian vice-president Enoch Kavindele. The team has been undergoing last-minute training over the weekend and will formally launch its mission on Wednesday, 22 May.

The EU has sent a three-person Electoral Expert Mission rather than a full Election Observation Mission. Brussels also sent a small Electoral Expert Mission to the last elections in 2019. 

Sources said this was a “low visibility” mission, and no public statement would be issued after the election. Its final report will be shared with the authorities but will not be made public. 

It is understood the team has already been in South Africa for two to three weeks and will remain for a week after the elections. 

By contrast, the EU’s fully fledged Election Observation Missions usually comprise 10 to 20 long-term observers and up to 100 short-term observers. They make public statements, while their final reports are very thorough and are made public.

The fact that the EU is sending only a small expert team is considered to be an indication that it has faith in the IEC to run a credible election. 

However, the fact that the SADC and the AU are sending fully fledged election missions does not conversely mean that they have concerns about the freeness and fairness of the elections, officials said. It is rather that they have different mandates as South Africa is a member of both organisations.

As SADC spokesperson Barbara Lopi said in announcing the mission to South Africa, “in line with Article 3 of the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021), SADC shall observe all general elections held in its member states”.

The AU deployment is also “standard practice”, an official said. The mission would comprise nearly 80 members. 

Lopi said that on 14 March 2024, the IEC had invited the SADC to observe the elections. Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, as chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, had appointed Kavindele to head the mission.

The mission would comprise both short-term and long-term observers who would be deployed to all nine provinces for the pre- and post-election phases and the polling day. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

“The mission’s objective is to assess the conduct of the elections in accordance with the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections of (2021),” Lopi said.

“These principles emphasise, among others, the importance of citizen participation in the democratic and development processes, the implementation of measures to promote free and fair elections, equal access to the government-owned media by all political parties and the significance of acceptance and respect for the election results by all political parties.” 

The SADC observer mission will this week start meeting election stakeholders as well as heads of election observers from other organisations. 

Lopi said the heads of the SADC observer mission would meet heads of other election observation missions in a post-election meeting chaired by the head of the AU mission (Kenyatta) on 30 May and would then publicly release its preliminary report on the elections on 31 May. DM


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