Ladies and gentlemen, Distinguished guests, Members of the Media Fellow South Africans,
From the onset, let me ask that you permit me to acknowledge and stand by the protocol as established by my colleague, Dr Masuku, who is our Programme Director in these proceedings.
Kindly also permit me top express the Electoral Commission’s delight and pleasure in welcoming you to the launch of the National and Provincial Elections 2024. As you will no doubt agree with me, no one general election is the same as another.
Today, we gather here on a momentous occasion, the launch of our NPE2024. This is an election of particular significance, not only because it marks another step in our democratic journey, but also because it takes place in a year when our beloved South African Democracy celebrates its 30th birthday. By all accounts, ours is a nascent democracy and yet, one that has had to adapt and adjust significantly in response to a changing world and to developments that were unforeseen at the time of our transition. In this regard, we have attracted the attention of the world for good reason.
Among others, South Africa’s performance as rated by the Electoral Integrity Report 2023, which deploys a concept known as the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity dataset (PEI_9.0) and uses data drawn from a rolling survey of 4722 expert assessments of electoral integrity across 497 elections in 169 countries around the world, places South Africa’s PEI score among the cream of the crop in terms of countries measured that have attained a score 75% or more. Even more importantly, South Africa’s own electoral integrity performance rates higher than the average standard achieved within any region in the world (i.e., our so-called “Area Mean” stands at 69 in comparison to the “Area Means” of Africa at 44, Americas at 60, Asia at 52, Europe at 67 and
Oceania at 59 (2023:6-7).1 While this picture is one that must make South Africa justifiably proud, we at the Electoral Commission know that it is one against which we will be measured and need to beat ourselves at, when the NPE2024 is accounted for in the record books. It will not be easy but we launch the NPE2024 programme with this clearly etched in our minds.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa is also approaching these upcoming elections with immense pride and a profound sense of responsibility. This is so because our electoral democracy has come a long way since those historic elections in 1994 when millions of South Africans cast their votes for the very first time. While it is essential that we recognise the remarkable achievements of the past three decades, it is necessary for us to embrace the challenges that lie before us.
Looking back at those 30 years, we have seen a peaceful transfer of power through the ballot and using the power of the universal franchise which was captured in the somewhat gender insensitive slogan “one man, one vote”. In that process, we have built a society founded on the principles of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We have created a nation that stood as a beacon of hope on the African continent and in the world. Our transition is often mentioned as a miracle and yet, we know what it took to get it done. We dare not forget and betray that resolve nor the sacrifices that were made to get us to this point. We must not falter. We must squarely face the reality before us.
We have much to count on in our favour. We have an electoral democracy that is underpinned by one of the indisputably most progressive constitutions of its time, a vibrant civil society, a free press, an independent judiciary, and a citizenry that historically took its responsibility for its right to vote as it did with its corresponding duty to jealously guard that right. While we have no doubt faced many obstacles in the process, our short history as a democracy has nevertheless taught us that we must never shy away from confronting those obstacles before us if we are to succeed. For us at the Commission, this resolve is clear and one that we mindfully bring to this launch.
Compatriots, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, as we prepare for the NPE2024, let us not only look back but also look forward. Let us recognise that the journey ahead is even more important than the path we have already travelled. To ensure that our electoral democracy remains strong and vibrant for the next 30 years and beyond, we must commit ourselves to several key principles and actions. In this regard, I wish to point out the following in particular:
We must ensure that our elections consistently improve in the manner they are administered and uphold the progressive standards set out for elections to be credible, free and fair elect0ions universally accepted for this purpose. There is a significant part of this responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the Electoral Commission and I am pleased to unequivocally state that we (at the Commission) are not shying away from this challenge. Even so, we remain mindful of the fact that elections are not just about those who administer them and those who are contestants (whether a political party or independent candidate). We fully recognise that in order for the NPE2024 to meet the high expectations South Africans hold at a time such as this, we will need every citizen and every resident to play their civic duty. This is a call call for all hands on deck.
We will need to have political parties and candidates carefully draft and present their respective policy and service offerings that seek to affirm a prosperous South Africa in which every citizens is adorned with a batch of human dignity. In this regard, we must all be mindful that for voters to need to have an opportunity to access and weigh the myroiad of choices before them and accept their right to make their choices freely. This is can only be attained when we have a conducive environment to enable free political activity.
We will need a civil society that is engaged to encourage voter registration and participation. A civil society that will truly binds communities together for a common good and mindful of its important role to contribute to the success of elections through disseminating information pertinent to elections, observing and being additional eyes and ears - a watchdog role – to enable the elections to remain true to the ideals of our constitution.
The media will as always, be the mainstay of information that all of us will desperately need. Information that is informed and non-partisan. Information that is vigilant and carefully verified, that neither seeks to misinform nor contribute to digital harms that are aimed at impairing the very credibility of the elections we need.
We will need women and men of stature, who are fit and proper and trusted in their communities to step forward and be counted among those we will need to be part of our conflict resolution panels which we will shortly be establishing throughout the country.
We will need to work closely with all organs of state to realise an election that all of us can be proud of because our citizens will have expressed their vote in a way that reflects the proverbial will of the people; an election outcome where those who have been defeated in the electoral contest can plausibly pin their non-success on this occasion and look forward to possibilities of winning in the future.
For the NPE2024 to succeed, we will need business and organised labour to unite around a common purpose that finds expression in the adage, and I quote “divided we fall, united we stand”, I close quote.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, there are many other considerations we need to bear in mind as we go into the NPE2024. I will not try to go through them all on this occasion. However, what every election practitioner will tell you, as I hereby do, is that in elections, time is never lost in the final stages or at the end – it is lost right in the beginning. Through this launch, we are mindful that the beginning of the countdown to an election begins with how we approach every step of its preparations and continues throughout its execution. As you have heard from the Chief Electoral Officer’s briefing on our State of Readiness, this journey is well underway and in good hands. Let us all embrace it.
The NPE2024 is unique as it marks the first time independent candidates will be able to contest seats in our national and provincial legislatures. This change underscores the importance of inclusivity and diversity in our democracy. It is our duty to ensure that this change is widely understood, and the changes are fully embraced and executed. As you may be aware, with every change, there are often issues that may require legal clarity. This is true for the legal scheme ushered by the Electoral Amendment Act 2023. Where clarity is sought, let us be bold and use lawful means to obtain the needed clarity in a time window that will enable us to conduct elections we can all be proud of. In this regard, we all need to exercise patience to allow the judicial authorities the time they need to apply themselves on the matters that have either been referred or may have to be referred to them for determination.
Almost everyone that we have come across has expressed that a view that the NPE2024 will be a complex undertaking. We do not hold a different view.
From now henceforth, the Commission will continue to strengthen civic and voter education initiatives to ensure that voters are fully informed about their roles and responsibilities in the NPE2024. This is critical because an informed electorate is the bedrock of any thriving democracy.
On behalf the Commission to call upon each one of us to remain committed to the principles of accountability and transparency. South Africa's journey toward a more perfect democracy is ongoing, and it relies on the dedication of leaders, institutions, and citizens to uphold the rule of law and good governance.
Let us move forward with hope and determination, knowing that the next 30 years will be filled with opportunities for growth, unity, and progress. Together, as South Africans, we can ensure that our electoral democracy carries a promise for all of South Africa’s people and a shining example for the world.
May God bless South Africa and her people at a time such as this. I thank you.