The Electoral Commission says it will urgently approach the Electoral Court to postpone eight by-elections scheduled for Wednesday, 30 June. This follows the implementation of Level 4 lockdown restrictions.

The commission says it took the decision to seek the court’s approval to postpone the by-elections at an emergency meeting after the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa of additional Level 4 lockdown measures to help curb the third wave currently gripping the country.

These measures include a ban on all gatherings, except for funerals. Wednesday’s by-elections would have been the last ahead of the scheduled 27 October local government elections.

The developments comes as the Moseneke Inquiry, which is considering whether the elections should take place as scheduled, began its work on Monday.

Part one of Monday’s proceedings at the Moseneke commission:

Voter registration

The national voter registration weekend scheduled for the 17 and 18 July will fall within the peak of the third wave, says Dr Aslam Dasoo of the Progressive Health Forum, who made an oral submission virtually before Justice Dikgang Moseneke on the first day of the sitting.

With South Africa in the grip of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Dasoo says the run-up to the local government elections in October will present its own challenges.

“The voter registration programme planned for July 16th and 17th is going to fall squarely within the peak or the cresting of the current wave and poses a material risk if not from the registration venues then from the concomitant movement of people during that time. So, it can be expected that pressure from political parties to undertake political activities such as rallies and community mobilisation during the months of August, September, and October will be high.”

Dasoo additionally predicts high levels of the virus in October. “As we come down off the third wave and restrictions are lowered and people start moving around freely and become more complacent that we could kick off an early fourth wave, this is speculation, there is no certainty around this but it will also decide when we decide the third wave is over at the beginning of August. So, it is  a prediction and cannot be stated with absolute certainty but based on historical trends one must accept that there will be an appreciable amount of circulating virus in the country.”

Painting an even more concerning picture was Fatima Hassan on behalf of the Non-Governmental Organisations, the Health Justice Initiative, and the People’s Health Movement.

“Parties are saying that given the current regulatory period arising from the Disaster Management Act they are unable to do their internal primaries so to speak, the internal candidate selection processes because these processes generally involve community meetings, branch meetings going up all the way to the national level of the party,” she said.

Civil society organisations make presentations at the commission:

IEC Chief Executive Officer, Sy Mamabolo, has said the Electoral Commission has a responsibility to ensure that it not only holds local elections every five years as required by the Constitution, but ensures that the polls reflect the will of the people.

“There is no binary choice between timeously holding the forthcoming elections and those elections being free and fair. The constitutional impulse is for both to be met, so the demands on the commission are in respect of both constitutional imperatives. So, in other words, you don’t hold elections for election’s sake, indeed they have to be free and fair,  otherwise, an election for the sake of it will be a hollow exercise,” he says.

Mamabolo has stressed that the IEC has not yet determined whether the local elections should go forward as scheduled and hence the need for the Moseneke Inquiry. He says,  however, the Electoral Commission is busy making the technical preparations to ensure it is ready given any eventuality.