The Electoral Commission (IEC) has set the final deadline of 11 November 2020 for by-elections to clear the backlog caused by Covid-19 and the national lockdown.
During this period, by-elections will be held in 96 wards in 56 municipalities following President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that SA would from Monday move to lockdown Alert Level 1, which will see a lifting of restrictions on political activities.
In a statement on Friday, the IEC said that the scheduling follows consultations with the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, as well as represented political parties via a special National Party Liaison Committee meeting held yesterday.
By-elections have not been held since the beginning of the National State of Disaster in March introducing the lockdown restrictions.
“Since then, 96 ward vacancies in 56 municipalities have occurred, including two dissolved councils in the Northern Cape, where PR [party representative] candidates must also be elected,” said the Commission.
Actively trying to clear the backlog, the Electoral Commission said it plans to hold all vacant ward by-elections simultaneously on the 11th of November 2020.
By-elections are scheduled in all nine provinces across 461 voting districts, affecting over 600 000 registered voters.
The by-elections will take place under strict Covid-19 prevention protocols to ensure the safety of everyone involved i.e. voters, election staff, party agents, observers and other stakeholders.
This will include strict social distancing practices both inside and outside the voting stations, with everyone being required to properly sanitise their hands before entering and exiting the premises.
To further curb the risk of infection, voters are encouraged to bring their own pens to mark their ballot papers but previously sanitised pens will be available to use.
The IEC continued by saying that it is confident that these measures would allow for elections to continue - freely and fairly - in this safe environment.
“The decision by the Commission to approach the Electoral Court for postponements of by-elections since March was not taken lightly,” said IEC Chairperson Glen Mashinini.
“But given the risk to human life and restriction of political activity, the Commission had no choice but to act responsibly and postpone the by-elections. Now that circumstances have improved, we are ready to give voters their political voice back.”
Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo said that a special targeted communications and education programme will be held in the badly-affected wards to educate voters on the new safety protocols in an attempt to encourage their participation.
Mamabolo said the easing of restrictions on political activities offers a window to the Electoral Commission to work through the backlog ahead of next year’s scheduled Municipal Elections.
Mashinini said that while the pandemic has improved sufficiently to allow the elections to proceed, circumstances still demanded extreme vigilance and compliance to the health protocols by election staff, political parties, candidates, observers and other stakeholders.
“The by-elections on 11 November will give us all an opportunity to work together to test and if necessary, to refine our safeguards.
“It is within all of us as South African citizens to positively participate in measures to combat the further spread of Coronavirus, especially during voting,” he said.