It is easier for prisoners to vote than South Africans Abroad – DA Shadow Minister Adrian Roos

There is a growing dispute between the Democratic Alliance, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) regarding the difficulties faced by South Africans living abroad when trying to register and vote at overseas missions. This issue could potentially result in a case before the Electoral Court that oversees the IEC and the conduct of elections in the country.  The dispute follows after voters in Perth, Australia discovered that they could only vote at the South African High Commission in Canberra, while South Africans living in Malta will have to travel to Rome to vote. In an interview with BizNews, Adrian Rose, the Deputy Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, said that the DA has given the IEC and DIRCO an ultimatum to consider the inclusion of so-called honorary consulates, like Perth, as voting stations. If this is not granted, the DA would consider taking other steps. Rose added that the DA wants DIRCO and the IEC to increase the number of voting stations abroad by adding an extra 6-10 within the present legislation. Rose disagreed with the argument that there were financial constraints to adding extra overseas voting stations, as the government receives additional tax revenue from many overseas South Africans. He also highlighted that while the government has set a target of getting 100,000 prisoners out of about 127,000 prisoners to vote, there are no similar targets for voters overseas. It was unfair, he said that prisoners have a better chance of voting than South Africans living abroad.  According to Rose, South Africans living overseas have a constitutional right to vote, and the government should take necessary steps to ensure that they can vote without any difficulties.Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction and Background
  • 01:01 – Challenges Faced by South Africans Abroad
  • 02:22 – Issues with Voting Locations
  • 03:39 – Blame Shifting Between IEC and DIRCO
  • 05:04 – Challenges in Other Countries
  • 05:29 – Time Constraints and Potential Solutions
  • 06:37 – Deadlines and Next Steps
  • 07:02 – Possibility of Going to the Electoral Court
  • 09:37 – Number of South Africans Abroad and Potential Votes
  • 10:55 – Current Number of Registered Voters Abroad
  • 11:54 – Problems with Passport Renewal
  • 14:22 – Staying Informed about Changes
  • 15:26 – Treatment of Expats as Taxpayers vs. Voters
  • 17:23 – Polling Data and Importance of Voting

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Edited excerpts of interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Significant challenges for overseas South Africans to register and vote

I’m the Deputy Shadow Minister of Home Affairs. My mailbox is filled every day with people reaching out, mainly from overseas, to try and access services from Home Affairs. There are significant challenges for voters overseas who are trying to access the online system, trying to get it to work, trying to see how they can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

I think we have a significant challenge. As a South African citizen, you have a better chance of voting if you’re a prisoner than if you live overseas. Australia is a case in point. There are over 200,000 South African residents there, and only around 500 of them voted in the 2019 elections. So clearly, something is wrong.

We had a situation at the beginning of this online registration process where South Africans could enter their address, and suddenly, for some or other reason, that was taken away for some reason. The Democratic Alliance is looking at this and saying, we need to allow South Africans overseas the constitutional right to vote as much as is reasonably possible.

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Trying to work within present legislation, will consider other steps   

I think the starting point and what the Democratic Alliance is looking at now is just to use the existing legislation to enable voters to register and vote at all consulates. It is allowed in the present legislation. But we have many, many honorary consulates around the world where South Africans are not allowed to vote and we need to understand why that is. We asked the IEC and they said, no, it’s a DIRCO issue. We asked DIRCO, they say it’s an IEC issue.

According to the law, you should be able to vote at a consulate. In the case of Australia, there are honorary consuls in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Adelaide. Therefore, there should be no reason why South Africans can’t register and vote there.

Financial Constraints?: Taxation of South Africans abroad boots revenue

Sometimes, when these issues are raised, cost becomes a concern, with claims of impracticality and excessive expenses. A few years ago, tax laws changed so that South Africans overseas now get taxed over a certain amount. The question then arises: if there is additional revenue from these taxes, why claim there is no money or not enough resources at the consulate to accommodate overseas voters? Currently, we are essentially asking 195,500 South Africans to fly to Canberra to vote, instead of deploying a few people to these honorary consulates to facilitate voting.

When the Democratic Alliance examined the number of people being disenfranchised, we recommended adding 6 to 10 additional voting stations worldwide. This would serve a significant portion of the currently unserved population. One needs to consider honorary consulates and acknowledge that this is a legal requirement. But even if you only consider the proposed 6 to 10 stations, staffing them wouldn’t be a significant demand.

South Africans in Malta have to vote in Rome

The situation is worse in places other than Australia. New Zealand is another good case. For instance, if you’re in Auckland, it’s a very long trip from Wellington, where you currently can vote. I believe it’s over 500 miles or 500 kilometres. So, it’s not easy to undertake a thousand-kilometre round trip, if it is indeed in kilometres, just to vote. It’s a similar scenario there. My understanding is that there’s an honorary consul in Auckland, so you really should be able to vote there.

Consider individuals in Malta, for example, where there’s an honorary consul. They have to go and vote in Rome, which is unreasonable. There are numerous areas where these honorary consuls exist, and it’s in the legislation, so they must simply implement it.

Ultimatum given to IEC and DIRCO, DA considering next steps 

So, from our understanding, it’s a blame-shifting game between the IEC and DIRCO.  So, we are looking at the options now to assess the next step. Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact answer for you on when and what but it will be communicated in due course. The ultimatum that we propose is that the law be implemented. It’s all that we’re asking for is that these honorary consuls should be opened up for consultation. 

I am not sure how much time there is to fix this problem, it could be considered an urgent matter. Once President Ramaphosa announces an election date, you have only a few days remaining, the voting registration will close once it’s promulgated. Therefore, it would undoubtedly be treated as an urgent matter and handled promptly.

It is easier for prisoners to vote than South Africans Abroad

Even if we consider the scenario of prisoners, it came to pass due to a court approach in August 1999. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), as a Chapter Nine institution, has set a target of enabling 100,000 prisoners to vote out of a prison population of about 127,000. Unfortunately, we don’t hear similar targets for voters overseas. We often discuss human rights and the right to vote, which is a fundamental human right—one of the most precious rights for South Africans. Therefore, we expect a similar level of determination when it comes to voters overseas. While online registration is a significant step forward, if we are genuinely committed to enfranchising voters abroad, we should capture their physical addresses during registration. Understanding where our voters are and the extent of the problem will help us find solutions. At the end of the day, even with only 6 to 10 honorary councils available, we should make a reasonable effort to cover the vast majority. Let’s ensure that voters have a fair and practical chance to exercise their right to vote.

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Verified voters abroad 900,000 – 30,000 have registered for Election 2024

Democratic Alliance (DA) has conducted extensive research in this area, focusing on the overseas population. While there is absolute verification for a smaller figure of around 900,000 South Africans abroad, the generally accepted estimate is approximately 2 million. Within that context, we can consider a range of 200,000 to 300,000 individuals who are eligible to register and vote.

Even if we take a conservative estimate of 50,000, it could translate to potentially four to six seats in Parliament. If you look at the last few years, the Democratic Alliance has actively advocated for overseas citizens in terms of consular services taking a petition to Parliament that garnered over 10,000 signatures of South Africans overseas. There was the loss of citizenship case, also affecting many thousands of South Africans. We have been driving issues affecting South Africans abroad through Parliament. 

At this stage, 30,000 South Africans abroad have registered for the 2024 elections. However, we encountered several issues. One of the stumbling blocks is that individuals might check and find that there’s nothing nearby where they reside. Consequently, they become discouraged and fail to complete the registration process. For instance, if someone lives in Perth and realises they won’t be able to vote in Canberra, they may abandon the registration. These are anecdotal stories and complaints we’ve received, highlighting the challenge of distance. Voters are asking: How do we do this?

Challenges with Overseas Passport Applications: Lengthy Process and Lack of Online Option

The petition that was taken to parliament garnered well over 10,000 signatures, which is quite high for a petition. It’s a topic that I receive daily questions about, especially related to parents who want to travel with their children. Currently, we’ve managed to secure a concession from the Department of Home Affairs, allowing individuals to apply through visa facilitation services in the UK. We tested this approach to assess its ease of use. However, there are still some challenges. The commitment is to expand this process to other countries with significant South African populations. Another critical issue is the diplomatic bag. In South Africa, citizens can apply online for passport and ID renewal, submitting their applications along with payment. Then, they complete their biometrics locally. Curiously, the Department of Home Affairs hasn’t provided a compelling reason why the same process can’t be done from overseas. For instance, my brother wanted to go to Australia, and he completed everything online, including biometrics at a local centre. There seems to be no valid reason for the discrepancy.

At the moment, even trying to get an appointment in an embassy in Wellington takes months. You literally wait 5 to 8 months just to get there and start your application. So you have a scenario where you’re supposed to apply for your passport renewal, giving it just over a year. But if it takes you eight months to apply, there’s no way you’re going to get it. The turnaround period is 8 to 24 months as it is. In contrast, if you’re an Indian citizen in the UAE, for example, you’d be able to get your passport done within a week

30,000 overseas voters registered so far, 50,000 means 4-6 seats

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has conducted extensive research on this matter. The verified number of South Africans living abroad is 900,000, but the generally accepted estimate is around 2 million. Out of these, between 200,000 to 300,000 are eligible to register and vote. If we consider a conservative estimate of 50,000 voters, this could potentially translate into four to six seats in Parliament.

Over the past few years, the DA has been actively advocating for the rights of South Africans overseas. This includes providing consular services and presenting a petition to Parliament, which was signed by over 10,000 affected South Africans living abroad. There was also a case related to the loss of citizenship, which impacted thousands of South Africans. The DA has been at the forefront, of addressing issues that affect South Africans living abroad in Parliament

IPSOS says DA static at around 20% – “They are not the most dependable”

Unfortunately, the Ipsos polls are not the most reliable. There have been numerous cases highlighting their limitations. Consequently, the polling data from Ipsos is not the most dependable, unfortunately. Now, turning to the Democratic Alliance (DA), the crucial point lies in the multi-party charter and the collaboration among various parties. We find ourselves closer than ever to the African National Congress (ANC), inching toward bringing their majority below 50%. This shift is absolutely critical for every South African who cares about rescuing our nation. We cannot endure another five years of the current situation. The country is facing a dire financial crisis, struggling to fund essential services. For instance, grant increases have consistently lagged behind inflation over the past five years. While some categories receive a mere 2% increase, others face reductions or no increase at all. Consequently, the situation worsens as available funds diminish. The urgency cannot be overstated: every South African who values the future of our nation must register to vote and cast their ballot. We are closer than ever to achieving this change. The credible polls consistently predict that the ANC’s support will fall well below 50%, providing an opportunity for transformation

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