The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has announced that voter and candidate registration for the 2021 elections will be re-opened.

This follows the Constitutional Court’s decision to dismiss the IEC’s bid to postpone the elections to a later date, possibly early 2022.

The Constitutional Court ordered the IEC to keep to the predetermined schedule for the 2021 municipal elections, which can not be held any later than 1 November 2021.

In doing so, the commission was ordered to determine if there was a possibility to hold a voter registration weekend and, if so, giving it room to make adjustments to the necessary timetables to allow for this.

A national voter registration weekend was to be held on 17 and 18 July; however, this was cancelled after a spike in Covid-19 cases. The IEC then adopted the Moseneke report at the end of the month and initiated proceedings to postpone the election.

The Mosenke report found that South Africa’s elections would not be free or fair due to the chaos caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It recommended that the elections be postponed to no later than February 2022.

New dates

According to the IEC, a registration weekend has been scheduled for the weekend of the 18th and 19th of September 2021.

This will offer all eligible citizens an opportunity to register, it said. Over this weekend, all 23,151 voting stations across the country will be open between 08h00-17h00 on both days for registrations.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been informed of the plans, the IEC said, with the official election date set to be proclaimed on the 20th of September, at which time the voter’s roll will close.

The commission has recommended that the election date be set for 1 November 2021.

Along with the voter’s roll re-opening, the IEC has also re-opened registration for party candidates.

The IEC said that the voter registration deadline needs to precede the candidate deadline. Because a new deadline for voter nominations is now set, it follows that a new deadline for candidate registrations needs to be set. This deadline will be determined at a later stage but will follow the voter registration weekend.

Political parties have been divided on whether the Constitutional Court’s ruling could be read to include candidate registrations.

The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, is opposed to re-opening the candidate registrations, saying that the Constitutional Court order was clear in its discussions about voter registration – primarily because the voter registration weekend in July was cancelled.

This, it argued, would not extend to the candidate registrations, which had very clear deadlines.

However, other parties support the IEC’s decision. Most notably, the move would give the ruling African National Congress a big break, considering the party missed the candidate registration deadline in 93 wards.

Legal challenge

The DA said it would approach its legal team to challenge the IEC’s decision to re-open candidate registrations, saying that it unduly benefits the ANC.

“While the Constitutional Court judgment underscored the importance of a voter registration period, which we welcome, we strongly object to the use of the window to re-open candidate registration,” said DA federal chair Helen Zille.

“The two are clearly distinct from each other. There had been no prior weekend dedicated to voter registration because this was cancelled in July due to the Covid spike. However, there was a clear deadline for candidate registration, which the ANC missed.”

Zille said the IEC had never before granted such a reprieve to other political parties that failed to meet deadlines. Other parties have requested leeway on an IEC deadline in the past; however, these bids failed and resulted in full or partial exclusion from elections.

“What we saw today gives the ANC an advantage that other parties have never enjoyed. It is a transparent strategy to benefit the ANC and would go some way to explaining why the ANC withdrew its appeal to the Electoral Court to have the candidate registration deadline lifted,” Zille said.

“The DA believes this manipulation was specifically precluded by the ConCourt’s judgment, for which we are very grateful, and we will seek to have it formally stopped. The IEC cannot be used by the governing party to do its bidding. The DA will not hesitate to fight the IEC and the ANC in their blatant attempts to manipulate our Constitution and our electoral processes.”