2024’s independent candidates will be the ‘rejects’ from political parties

By Michael Appel

Electoral reform, paving the way for independent candidates to stand for office at a provincial and national level, places South Africa on a “dangerous road” that requires careful consideration.

So believes Beatie Hofmeyr, speaking in her capacity as the ANC’s representative at the National IEC Multi-Party Committee. Hofmeyr is a veteran and expert in the electoral and local government field having been involved in candidate selection since the 1990s.

In June 2020 a Constitutional Court ruling ordered Parliament to amend South Africa’s electoral legislation within 24 months. This was to allow for independents to stand in elections as the Bill of Rights makes provision for, while the existing electoral act stipulates you can only contest elections as a member of a political party. This conflict within our legislation was supposed to have been corrected by June this year but Parliament asked for an extension to the deadline until 10 December 2022.

Hofmeyr was speaking at a webinar titled “How democratic are our political parties?” hosted by My Vote Counts. She is warning that allowing for independent candidates to stand for national office is a practice made provision for in only a handful of countries around the world.

“My prediction is that independents will be the rejects from political leadership competitions in all the parties…it’s a dangerous new road we’re going down [with this electoral reform]. And it’s not one that has been tried effectively in any but six countries where there are high rates of literacy and political maturity. So for me, we’re in a very confused system. We’ll see how it works but the reality is, if we have 300 independents and 50 parties, we are going to have a ballot paper that is about 40 pages long.

“Think about counting those votes and checking that there are not two votes on each ballot paper. Think about boxes you need, the printing you need. The voter education you need, and it’s a nightmare,” says Hofmeyr.

The governing party’s misgivings regarding electoral reform have been raised with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Hofmeyr warns it will create more problems than solutions to the issue of a lack of accountability within party political structures.

Hofmeyr also touched on the ANC’s electoral committee headed up by former President Kgalema Motlanthe. New rules aimed at improving transparency have been drafted which specify exactly how and on what money may be spent when campaigning for a top job in the ANC. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s recommendation that consideration should be given to enacting electoral reform that allows for directly electing the president of South Africa was labelled by Hofmeyr as “political opinions…not solutions necessarily. We need to do a lot more research before we toss our whole political system out because of that.”

In a recent statement issued by the ANC’s national spokesperson Pule Mabe, the party made these comments about independents.

“At the moment, parties pay R200,000 deposit for national and R45,000 per province – they win back their deposit if they win one seat. The committee should decide if the same threshold could apply for deposits for independents. One seat is one seat – whether for a party or an independent. 

“Similar to independents in wards, independent candidates and parties that do not have any seats from previous elections, must be able to show that they have at least some support that could potentially win a seat. We should have a very low limit of support to allow serious parties and independents to participate, without encouraging frivolous parties and people and overcrowding the process,” read the ANC statement.

In a recent interview with BizNews, Independent Candidate Association founder Dr Michael Louis was adamant that this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to effect meaningful electoral change but believes feet-dragging by Parliament has the potential to thrust the country into crisis ahead of the 2024 national election. 

It will be an election, Louis believes, in which independent candidates have a critical role to play in the unfolding coalition nature of national governance. Watch the interview with Louis below.

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