2009 National Elections: Voting Abroad

As South Africans vote in the fourth democratic national elections this week, I find it necessary to reflect on the achievement of one political party, the Freedom Front Plus. South Africans will recall that it is the FF Plus that took government to court over certain provisions of the Electoral Act, which it consistently argued that “they were unconstitutional”.

The ruling, which favoured the FF Plus, opened a new chapter for South Africans living or working abroad to exercise their democratic right to vote on who should govern the country.

While many of us may argue that FF Plus is only concerned about the rights of the Afrikaaners, victory in its favour can be described as “victory for all South Africans”, especially those living and working abroad. It is also a victory for democracy and the Constitution.

The biggest lesson that we can draw from the ruling is that the government, all political parties and civil society organisations have a responsibility, to ensure that the rights of these people, as guaranteed by the Constitution, are realised.

The other lesson is that the country should re-look the role of Chapter 9 institutions to ensure that they do not only play a monitoring role. This can involve strengthening these institutions to enable them to also contribute to amending certain sections of the Constitution or enforce some of the constitutional rights.

In the afternoon of the 14th of April 2009, I immediately thought of Bernard Matsoso, a young South African professional who among other reasons, left South Africa when he could not get employment. He is currently plying his trade in South Korea.

Contrary to the views that migrant South Africans are less patriotic or less optimistic about the future of this country, Matsoso is in touch with the developments within SA politics. He could not hide his excitement at the fact that he was heading to the embassy to cast his vote. I remember him when he says “my vote will make a difference”.

Even when the said FF Plus court was still on, his greatest wish was for the court to grant them the right to vote. However, he expresses unhappiness at the fact that the turnout was very disappointing. This can be blamed at factors such as the long distances to the polling stations or the number of South Africans currently in those countries.

The same goes for South Africans who woke up on 4am to cast their votes in London. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), a total of 7 427 registered to vote in London.

I think it would be unfair not to acknowledge the contribution the role that the IEC has played in ensuring that systems are in place for the oversees vote to take place. It managed this process within limited time constraints. I hope the IEC will conduct a survey in those countries to determine areas where polling stations can be set up, as compared to putting polling stations in embassies or consulates. For example, there were media reports that a lot of eligible voters in Australian cities of Perth, Sydney and Auckland, could not vote because they had to travel long distances to the voting stations.

In a nutshell, no matter how you look at it, I was looking forward to cast my vote on 22 April 2009. From today I am looking at how the incoming administration improves the lives of ordinary South Africans. We are a maturing democracy.

Author(s): 
Butjwana Matibidi

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