LSSA and IEC celebrate their partnership for the 2016 municipal elections

April 1st, 2015

By Barbara Whittle

‘Thank you very much for this opportunity to join you in the road to entrenching democracy in our country,’ then Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Co-chairperson, Max Boqwana, said to Electoral Commission dignitaries at a gala dinner hosted in Pretoria early in February. The dinner was held by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to celebrate the beginning of the LSSA’s electoral project to train observers for the 2016 municipal elections. Mr Boqwana referred to the electoral process as ‘the only true exercise where rich and poor find equality, young and old find common space, and the illiterate and those that are learned have the ability to participate equally … it is an occasion to put a badge of dignity on all South Africans; a clear demonstration of denouncing our recent past of disenfranchisement.’ Mr Boqwana added: ‘We have the resources, capacity and intellect to render a hand in this to ensure that our country moves forward in the correct direction with integrity and credibility.’

The LSSA’s 2016 municipal election monitoring initiative follows the successful monitoring of the 2014 national and provincial elections by attorneys and candidate attorneys as part of the LSSA’s observer team (see 2014 (June) DR 12 and 2014 (July) DR 15). Mr Boqwana explained: ‘It is important that as South Africans and Africans we begin to own this process as ours. The number of election observer missions from outside the borders of the continent has reduced dramatically. We, therefore, as Africans have to deal with our own problems and have to act with integrity.’

Referring to the LSSA’s report on its observer mission, he noted that it had become clear that a large number of young people were not enthusiastic about voting: ‘It is important that we, as a society, participate in all the efforts to redress this state of affairs. It is not a cliché to say young people are the future of our country. If indeed that is the case, it would be suicidal to ignore them in voter education projects.’

Expressing the IEC’s delight at the partnership with the LSSA, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the IEC, Sy Mamabolo, said he hoped that other professions in South Africa would follow the example set by the attorneys’ profession.

He added: ‘It is our view that legal expertise around electoral law is not at the level where it should be. We, therefore, believe that this partnership must plant seeds of interest in this branch of constitutional law. The participants in this year’s training programme must, in the future, represent an array of stakeholders to vindicate their rights and interests through the judicial forums of our country.’

Mr Mamabolo said our country was in the process of preparing for general elections of municipal councils next year. He noted that municipal council elections often bring an array of complex legal and operational issues that are not to be found in the elections of the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. ‘Such complexity partly arises due to the number of different elections held concurrently. There are over 4 000 different elections conducted during municipal elections compared to ten different elections during national and provincial elections,’ he explained. He added: ‘Furthermore, ward elections imply a smaller geographic constituency election whereas the smallest constituency is a province in a national and provincial election. Ward elections bring with them a different and unique electoral dynamic, which in certain circumstances brings about undesired proclivities on the part of those desperate to win.’

Mr Boqwana said that the LSSA had demonstrated its commitment by introducing electoral democracy as a subject for candidate attorneys at its School for Legal Practice. ‘This will assist not only to engender interest in participatory democracy, but to create a reservoir of electoral observers, mediators, arbitrators in electoral disputes and a new breed of practitioners in this area of law,’ he noted.

Barbara Whittle, communication manager, Law Society of South Africa,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (April) DR 14.