Joburg is ready for General Elections

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Johannesburg - As the date for the country's national elections draws closer, the City of Johannesburg says it is ready for the task, and will ensure operations on the day goes off smoothly.

The municipal electoral officer in Johannesburg, Sibongile Mazibuko said the city was committed to contributing towards the delivery of free and fair elections.

"The city has invested money - not in a partisan way - to help the IEC run smooth elections in the city. We hope this year's elections will be as authentic and legitimate as the previous ones."

Mr Mazibuko was speaking at a recent seminar organised by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) "to cultivate a culture of political tolerance and respect of the country's Constitution" among contesting political parties, reports

There are over 1.8 million voters registered in Johannesburg, who are expected to flock to the polls on 22 April to cast their votes in the national and provincial elections. With so many voters, Mr Mazibuko said it would be a difficult task making sure no hitches are encountered.

He said the seminar, attended by IEC officials and representatives of political parties, would help those parties prepare for the elections and also instil a sense of respect for each other in the run up to and during the elections.

Commissioner Colin Hendricks from the South African Police Service (SAPS) spoke about the offences highlighted in the Electoral Act and the regulations to which political parties and the general public need to adhere.

"The purpose of this information is to highlight the offences created in the Act. Through this, members of the police will be better informed and be able to serve the community in a more professional way."

He listed a range of offences commonly committed by political parties during elections, saying it was an offence to unlawfully persuade a person to vote or not to vote for any registered party or candidate. Offenders faced a 10-year sentence if found guilty.

"Then there is the common offence of people removing election posters of rival political parties. This is a serious offence that many people take lightly. If caught and found guilty, a person may spend three years in prison."

Most importantly, Commissioner Hendricks said, using language or acting in a way that may provoke violence was prohibited. "This includes publishing false or defamatory allegations against an opposition political party. This offence carries a maximum sentence of five years."

Once registered as a political party in terms of the Electoral Act, a party was bound to the IEC's code of conduct, said Simon Mamabolo, the Gauteng provincial electoral officer.

"The purpose of the code of conduct is to promote conditions conducive to free and fair elections, including free political campaigning and open public debate. Every registered party and candidate must comply with the code and must instruct their office bearers, representatives, members and supporters to comply with the code."

Referring to recent political unrest in some parts of the country sparked by rival political meetings being held on the same day and in the same place, Mr Mamabolo stressed that the code stated that every registered party must liaise with other contesting parties and the relevant police station or IEC office when planning to hold public meetings, rallies or other public political events.

This was to ensure that contesting political parties did not hold their rallies at the same time and in the same place, he said.

"No person may carry or display arms or weapons at political meetings, rallies, marches or other public political events. [And] no person may deface or unlawfully remove or destroy placards or other election materials of a party," he said.

Concerning posters, Mr Mazibuko said there was a specific regulation in Johannesburg that all posters be removed within a certain time period after the Election Day.

"As the city, we have a responsibility that all election posters are removed by concerned parties. The city employs a private company that is tasked with removing posters after the deadline has passed at R6.50 per poster, an amount that will be paid by the offending party."

Regarding the display of election posters on billboards after the elections were over, Mr Mazibuko said the city had no control over such billboards.

"Billboards are a private space owned by advertising companies. There is a commercial arrangement between the company and the party concerned - thus we have no power over such arrangements."

On voting day, Masego Shiburi, the IEC manager of electoral matters, said no political events such as marches, public meetings, rallies or demonstrations were allowed anywhere.

"On voting day, no political activity whatsoever except casting a vote are allowed inside the boundary of a voting station."

Only two agents per party were allowed at a voting station, he said. "No party agents are allowed to wear any party regalia or to canvass for votes within the boundaries of a voting station.

However, voters are allowed to wear or display party regalia inside the boundaries of a voting station," Mr Shiburi said.

On the contentious issue of tables and tents set up by political parties outside voting stations, Mr Shiburi said the presiding officer at a particular voting station had the final say on the location of these tables and tents.

"They must not impede direct and free access to the voting station entrance. They must also not cause undue influence of voters or cause harassment of voters," he said.