The civil rights organisation AfriForum says there is no judicial or factual grounds to postpone the municipal elections. This forms part of AfriForum’s application to the Constitutional Court to be allowed as a Friend of the Court (amicus curiae). This application will be heard virtually by the Constitutional Court on Friday, 20 August.
According to Morné Mostert, Manager of Local Government Affairs at AfriForum, the Constitution and the Local Government Act: Municipal Structures are in agreement that the terms of municipal councils are not allowed to continue longer than five years. “The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) therefore have to hold an election within 90 days of the conclusion of the five-year term. It seems as if the Constitution’s terms on this are peremptory, and it allows for little (if any) room for a court to grant a delay of elections after 1 November 2021.
According to him, COVID-19 models indicate that the current date for the election, 27 October, will fall in a safe period between the two waves of the virus. “Although there will have to be strict protocols in place everywhere during the elections, the IEC had already indicated that they would be ready to safely run the elections on 27 October at 23 000 voting stations – even before former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke’s recommendation that the election had to be postponed. The election can therefore continue since any future dates also have the potential to be problematic due to the pandemic.”
Mostert believes citizens should be given the opportunity to change who represent them on municipal councils.
Dr Eugene Brink, Manager of the Centre for Local Government at AfriForum, says it is no secret that the state of most municipalities are dreadful. “The auditor-general’s (AG’s) latest report, such as previous ones, shows disturbing tendencies with little cause for celebration where improvement is concerned. A few extra clean audits cannot make up for the terrible deterioration and the fact that only 10% of municipalities receive clean audits. Irregular spending is also still very high and there is serious concern about whether more than a quarter of municipalities will be able to keep afloat as running enterprises.”
“It is therefore important that municipal councils be elected as soon as possible and their processes not be allowed to slow down. It is no coincidence that the ANC and EFF are in favour of the postponement, as their mistakes could cost them votes. Possible improper influence by the ruling party on the IEC should also be prevented as it has the potential to undermine legislation. This could create a dangerous precedent.”
According to Brink there were approximately 130 countries that had safe elections between February 2020 and July 2021, and several by-elections were held in South Africa during this period. “People queue at shops or to get their grants every day. The process needs to be safe and many voting stations are anyway not overly crowded.”
According to Mostert, postponing the elections will simply bring about new challenges and will not change the fact that it will have to take place sooner or later. A fourth wave could for instance have an adverse impact on preparations for a later election.