Farm workers assured of getting time off to vote

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Johannesburg - Farmer unions and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) have signed an agreement which will ensure that all farm workers are able to cast their votes in a free and fair manner on 22 April.

The farming community agreed to allow employees time off from work to vote and for the IEC to use designated areas on farms as registration and voting stations.

The workers will also be allowed to attend political rallies at public areas.

IEC chairperson Dr Brigalia Bam and representatives from the Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU-SA), National African Farmers Union, Food and Allied Workers Union and the Rural Legal Trust signed the Memorandum of Agreement in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

Dr Bam said it was difficult to organise polling stations for farm workers to vote as they had to first get permission to enter the farm from employers. Many farm workers and farm dwellers also do not have Identity Documents or birth certificates.

"Some second generation farm workers don't exactly know when they were born. When farmers allow them to visit their nearest Home Affairs office, they spend the whole day in the long queues and normally return without getting the documents."

She said the IEC intended to engage the Department of Home Affairs and the farmers unions to have mobile units visit the farms to ensure all workers received necessary documents. "Farmers must assist in uniting farm workers to assemble at one farm," said Dr Bam.

The Constitution, which is rated as one of the best in the country, made it clear that every citizen had a right to vote including farm workers.

"By signing the MoU, we want to indicate to the world that we are a country which observes every law. We don't want farm workers to continue to be viewed as non-existent. We also want to ensure that these elections are free and fair," she said.

Meanwhile, the IEC is in the process of recruiting and training 200 000 electoral officials ahead of the general elections.

IEC Outreach Deputy Chief Electoral Officer, Matshidiso Masutha said they had developed a new set of criteria with regard to the appointment of electoral staff, presiding and deputy presiding officers.

Ms Masutha said the new criteria includes that presiding and deputy presiding officers must not in the last five years have held political office, or been a candidate in an election or have been political active for a political party.

"We are doing this because we must fulfil our mandate with impartiality," she said.

Currently, they are 23 million potential voters registered on the IEC's voters roll making it the highest recorded number of voters that have been registered since the national common voter's roll was first compiled for the elections in 1999.