Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As we approach the 2014 national and provincial elections, the integrity and independence of the IEC, the Independent Electoral Commission, are of paramount importance. It is, ultimately, the IEC that must deliver a credible, free and fair election.
As the Editor of the Mail & Guardian puts it in this week's edition, "Our still fledgling democracy would be seriously compromised if the credibility of its prime electoral body and the veracity of its election results were to become questionable. That way lies Zimbabwe."
In achieving democracy, South Africa won a shared heritage for all her people.
Thus today while some will braai and others will attend celebratory events, we will all be equally part of a free South Africa in which equality extends to culture, identity, language and race. That is the heritage of our long struggle for freedom.
The gains of democracy must be protected, and developed. Democracy itself must be safeguarded, and one of the foundational institutions that bear that great responsibility is the IEC: "an institution whose credibility must be beyond doubt in every possible way."
I agree on that count with the Mail & Guardian editorial. But I can't, by any stretch of the imagination, agree that the IEC is "completed trusted and uncontroversial" and wholly "without blemish". Believing that would no doubt leave one open to surprise when an IEC official is found guilty of unfairly excluding candidates in a hotly contested by-election, as has happened in Tlokwe.
But for anyone with their eyes wide open, unfair practices, electoral fraud, intimidation, vote rigging and corruption are no surprise. There are endless examples of a blemished record when it comes to South Africa's post-1994 elections.
Perhaps we need to look at our democratic elections from an outsider's viewpoint. Consider a report in the Chicago Tribune from 1 May 1994, titled "South Africa count hits snail's pace" –
"Counting in some places took place amid much of the same confusion that characterized voting, and could yet undermine the election… Election observers described scenes of chaos when the boxes arrived. They were supposed to have been brought to the counting center sealed, with documentation and under police guard, but some came in private vehicles and others were carried by hand. Ballot papers, some marked, some unused, lay strewn around on the floor while reporters, who are not supposed to have access to the counting area, stumbled on piles of boxes in unlocked rooms. ‘The debate is whether it's conspiracy or chaos…' said a European observer."
Indeed, independent observers of the European Community could not agree to our first democratic elections being free and fair. Yet, as a Minister in Cabinet at the time, I bore witness to Cabinet's suppression of the report in this regard.
Thus the 27th of April 1994 was hailed as a full-blown miracle.
In each subsequent election, the chaos diminished, but electoral fraud has increased. All of our national and provincial elections have been bedevilled by fraud, much of which was only exposed after the very tight deadline to challenge the electoral results had expired.
Even though the discovery of such fraud could no longer be used to challenge the electoral outcome, it should have formed the basis of investigations by the police at the insistance of the IEC so that perpetrators could be held accountable in terms of criminal law. But none of these crimes were investigated, no one was prosecuted and a perception of impunity continues to bedevil the electoral climate.
Intimidation and violence have also marred every election. This may not be on the scale of Zimbabwe, but it exists, and it has an effect on campaigning. There is no election without IFP leaders being targeted for assassination and enduring continuous harassment and endless threats. Many are rightly afraid to go out canvassing for support, as their safety is threatened. The assassination of one has the known power to chill the initiative of a thousand.
Exacerbating all this is endemic corruption. The ruling Party has used and abused State resources to promote its political position and electoral fortunes.
The tragedy is not as much its having done so and continuing to do so, but the fact that most observers have grown so accustomed to this phenomenon that they are beginning to consider it an expected and incurable evil of our political context.
I recently mentioned in my online newsletter my conversation with the former Secretary-General of the African Union, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim, when he visited South Africa just before the 2009 elections. I asked him whether there had ever been free and fair elections anywhere in Africa. He merely chuckled and said that at least they were "credible".
Is this good enough? Should we not strive for truly free and fair elections?
That cannot happen while the ANC busses people into areas in which they do not reside, in order to boost their votes in a by-election. It cannot happen for as long as people are offered R10 to vote for a specific party, or are given food parcels in exchange for their vote.
It cannot happen while SADTU members are used as electoral officials, when SADTU openly campaigns for the ANC. Our efforts are hindered by incidents like the one in April 2009, just days before the election, when thousands of ballot papers were found strewn across a road in Mpumalanga. Or in 2009 when results were prematurely announced before vote counting was completed.
There has been one postponement of a by-election after the next when voter registration fraud is uncovered. Abaqulusi is one victim. Jozini is another. In Nongoma, an IEC scanner went missing, and in Maphumulo a fraudulent voter was allowed to vote because electoral officials claimed they were too tired to notice. And that was long before the polling stations closed. How much more fraud goes unnoticed, and how much do unscrupulous parties get away with?
On 31 March 2008, I and members of the National Council of the IFP met with the then Chairperson of the IEC, Dr Brigalia Bam, and members of the IEC. We gave them a memorandum listing all the irregularities that had taken place during elections from 1994 to 2004. Dr Bam and the IEC promised to come back to us. Yet we are still awaiting their response.
That, at least, speaks of an institution whose credibility is not without blemish.
The IFP supports the work of the IEC and we recognise the importance of the IEC's integrity. Thus we cannot turn a blind eye to the increasing challenge of delivering a free and fair election in South Africa.
The work of the IEC must be strengthened.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP