South Africa


Despite challenges, African observers give SA elections a thumbs up

Despite challenges, African observers give SA elections a thumbs up
African Union observers – former Nigerian president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta – at the IEC Results Operation Centre in Midrand on 30 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Despite challenges with long waits in queues, malfunctioning voter management devices and gaps in civic education, the heads of four African observer missions have commended the Electoral Commission of South Africa, political parties and South African citizens for free and peaceful elections.

With voting done and dusted and the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) well into day two of vote counting, the heads of four international observer missions declared the highly contested 2024 election free, fair and credible.

Delegates, ambassadors and media filled a conference room at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre on Friday, 31 May, to hear the preliminary findings from the heads of the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM), Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) and the ECF-SADC Election Observer Mission.

Zambia’s former vice-president, Enoch Kavindele, opened up the media briefing, delivering the statement for the SADC mission as its head. Kavindele declared that the usually politically charged atmosphere of South Africa was relatively calm and peaceful, both during the pre-election period and on voting day, creating a conducive environment for the landmark elections.  

Apart from isolated incidents, observers deployed across the country witnessed numerous peaceful, well-planned and highly attended political rallies, conducted in an orderly, peaceful and free atmosphere, which enabled the voters to express their democratic will and those who sought office to campaign freely.

“The mission commends the people of South Africa for the political maturity, spirit of tolerance and calm that generally prevailed during this electoral period.”

Uhuru Kenyatta, the head of the AU Election Observer Mission and former president of Kenya, said he and the 65 other observers on the AU’s mission were pleased to have witnessed the vibrancy of South Africa’s democracy.

This echoed his earlier sentiments on Thursday, on the sidelines of the IEC’s press briefing, when he said: “[South Africa’s] democracy is the pride of Africa.

“South Africans freely exercised their constitutional right to vote and voted peacefully. The participation of youth and women offers hope for the future of democracy in Africa and indicates an increased trust in the electoral process.” 

While the preliminary findings all found common ground by declaring the election free, fair and peaceful, some key criticisms echoed what citizens, political parties and analysts have been saying since voting day.

Key criticisms

The Section 24A vote caused headaches for many voters on election day. The observer missions found that voters had little understanding of the amended rule, which resulted in voters being turned away at voting stations.

The SEOM reported that stakeholders felt that the IEC did not provide enough civic and voter education to sensitise voters to the new law reforms relating to the introduction of independent candidates, the third ballot paper and the implications of section 24A.

Malfunctions with the voter management devices (VMDs) added to the long wait in line. The preliminary observations from all four missions criticised the obstacles that the malfunctioning VMDs created and called on the IEC to improve the devices to ensure that any delays were mitigated. 

Parliament was also criticised for taking too long to sign the Electoral Amendment Bill, which allowed independent candidates to contest a national election for the first time. The heads of the mission said Parliament’s delay in getting the amendment through the door did not give the IEC enough time to prepare for the election adequately.

Despite the hurdles, all four heads of the mission unanimously agreed that the elections were well run and that they were free, fair, and credible. “In spite of the logistical and technical challenges observed, South Africa’s 2024 elections were a demonstration of the nation’s unwavering dedication to peace, democracy and inclusivity,” AUEOM declared. DM


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