South African Council of Churches

Electoral Bill (B69-98)
Submission to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs
21 July 1998

We thank the IEC for this opportunity to discuss various items of concern to us as well as to explore ways in which the churches and the NGO sector can assist the Commission in the preparations for the 1999 election.

1. Appreciation of plain language
We very much appreciate the plain language in which the Electoral Bill is written which will make it easily translatable into the other official languages. We hope that it is the intention to translate both the Act and its Regulations and all information material for the various "officers" as defined in Chapter 1 of the Bill. It must be remembered that English is not the first language of the vast majority of people in this country and it is essential that officers conducting the election are absolutely clear as to the meaning of the instructions they are given.

2. Identity documents
Our greatest concern is about the definition of "identity document" in the Bill.

We do not know what the HSRC survey will show but it is our belief that literally millions of South African citizens will be denied the right to vote if the only acceptable ID remains the barcoded ID issued after 1st July 1986.

The majority of these citizens will be the poor in rural and urban areas. The recent "Speak Out on Poverty" hearings held in May and June 1998 in every one of the Provinces disclosed that one of the major barriers to people accessing the social security grants to which they are entitled is lack of the bar coded ID. The Department of Welfare has computerised its social security system and, in doing so, has exposed the major problems involved.

South African citizens, if they have an identity document at all, hold a very great variety of these ranging from the old dompas, to TBVC passports or ID cards, other homeland cards, the old blue Identity Book issued to coloured, asian and white people, to the little green ID books issued to the same groups before 1996 without the bar code. It also seems that some people with the barcoded ID have Transkei or Ciskei written in as their citizenship. Everyone of them will have to check that the third last digit in their bar code is zero and, if it is not, seek to rectify the matter before the registration period.

The impediments to the easy replacement of these with the 1986 barcoded ID are the costs of transport from a rural village or informal settlement to the nearest Home Affairs office and the cost of the necessary photographs which seems to vary between R10 and R50.

People who have literally nothing have to borrow for the taxi fare and the costs of photographs but it is never just one journey that is involved. The Department of Home Affairs demands proof of birth before an application for an ID will be accepted and that can be almost impossible for an adult who is no longer in touch with the community in which she/he was born. The huge dislocations caused by the forced removals of the apartheid years and all the consequences of the pass laws and migrant labour mean that people have no contact with the elders and the old home churches who might be able to produce proofs to satisfy Home Affairs. That department's attitude is exclusive rather than inclusive and people have to prove South African Citizenship in the face of the department's conviction that a person is foreign and is trying to get SA citizenship by fraudulent means.

There is some justification for this attitude because of the large scale fraud and corruption in the system but it would be better for some foreign persons to vote fraudulently than to have such large numbers of South African citizens deprived of the power to exercise their right to vote.

We fully understand the Commission's desire to have a fully computerised, efficient and barcoded system in place before the next election but we do not think it is possible. It is something to be aimed for by 2004. Meanwhile we would like to discuss alternatives for the immediate future.

We do not think that lack of a bar coded ID in the present circumstances is a reasonable and justifiable limitation on the right of citizens to vote.

3. Registration of voters
We have noted reports that it is the intention of the IEC to have registration over a period of four months from October 1998 but that registration will be restricted to 16 specified days in the period of four months.

If these reports are accurate we are very concerned. Such a system may be possible in societies where everyone has access to information through a variety of media. That is not the case in South Africa.

4. Single date for voting
We think it is inadvisable to include in the Act a requirement that there will be a single day for voting. 14(2) (b), !5 (2) (b) and 16 (2) (a) should be amended to read "set the date or dates for voting" so that if there is a crisis generally, or in a particular voting district, the voting days can be extended by proclamation and not require amendment to the legislation -which would anyway be impossible as parliament will not be sitting.

5. Prisoners
The IEC needs to make it absolutely clear as to what the situation is regarding prisoners. Tension is already building because Golden Miles Bhudu has declared himself for the UDM and has said that all prisoners will follow his lead! He seems to be coupling this with the beginning of a campaign to demand the right of prisoners to vote, while letters to the press seem to indicate a build up of resentment at the prospect.

We would like to discuss with the Commission what their thinking is on this issue. Prisoners should be able to vote in the district in which they are registered i.e. the district in which they are temporarily resident but they need to know that if they are released they will have to come back to that district in order to vote. The position of awaiting trial prisoners is even more difficult.

6. Funding of political parties
This is another matter we wish to discuss. As we understand it only parties which have representation in the Assembly or Provincial legislatures are at present entitled to funding by the state. Now that Azapo has declared its intention to compete in the next election and the UDM has been established and looks as if it has some significant support what are the rules for funding?

7. Accreditation of persons providing voter education
We are not at all clear about the need for, or purpose of, clause 92 in the Bill.

We think that the IEC is going to dissipate its scarce resources in any attempt to enforce this. Voter education by political parties and candidates will be controlled through the code of conduct.

Persons and organisations in the civil society should not be burdened with any need to obtain accreditation from the IEC. It will just obstruct small scale programmes at local levels.

8. The IEC's plans for voter education
We need to know what the IEC is planning in this regard and what strategies it envisions.

The above submission to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs was initially drafted as a memorandum to the Independent Electoral Commission in preparation for the meeting between IEC representatives and a delegation from the South African Council of Churches and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference. The consultation was held in Pretoria on Monday, 20 July 1998. The church delegation was comprised of:

The Rev. Charity Majiza, General Secretary of the SACC
Ashley Green Thompson, SACBC Justice and Peace Commission
Eddie Makue, SACC Justice Ministries
Sheena Duncan, honorary officer, SACC

South African Council of Churches
Public Policy Liaison Office
8 September 1998

Dear Dr. Cwele:

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) remains extremely concerned about the provisions of the Electoral Bill pertaining to the forms of identification that will be accepted for voter registration and voting. Since the Select Committee on Social Services is currently considering two alternative amendments, proposed yesterday by the Department of Home Affairs and the Electoral Commission, we wish to extend remarks that we have made in our earlier submission to the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to address the issues raised by these two proposals. We hope that you will share our comments with other members of your committee.

The SACC appreciates the government's eagerness to ensure that all South Africans hold an up-to-date identity document. The barcoded ID clearly represents the most secure form of identification, and we would support efforts to promote acquisition of barcoded IDs by all adult citizens.

However, we are not convinced that it is realistic to complete this process prior to the 1999 general election. The Department, the EC, and the HSRC all agree that there are approximately 2,5 million South Africans with some form of non-barcoded identity document. In addition, there is some number of people who have no identity document at all. The Department claims that this number is very small, and that most are people who simply have not yet collected their IDs. Based on the results of its 30 July 1998 survey, the HSRC estimates that between 2,5 million and 2,8 million South Africans have no form of identity document, a figure that has been accepted by the EC.

We are prepared to endorse the Department's view that flaws in the HSRC research methodology may have caused the survey to overestimate the number of eligible voters without any form of identity document. At the same time, our own experience, coupled with anecdotal evidence from other sources, leads us to believe that a substantial number of eligible voters still lack IDs. For example, the recent "Speak Out on Poverty" hearings, held in May and June 1998 in every province, revealed that one of the major obstacles that people face in accessing social security grants to which they are entitled is the lack of a barcoded ID. The Department of Welfare has now computerised its social security system and, in doing so, has exposed the magnitude of the problem.
The Department reports that it has the capacity to issue barcoded IDs to the 2,5 million eligible voters who require them prior to the 1999 elections. Even in the best case scenario--where applications for barcoded IDs began to pour in tomorrow and the Department is able to work continuously at its peak output of 20 000 IDs a day--the Department would need 125 working days, or six months, to issue the requisite number of IDs. This leaves very little room for manoeuvre. If, as we believe, the Department will also need to cope with a substantial number of first-time applicants, its capacity will be severely strained. Even without an influx of applications from people who lack any ID, there are many other circumstances--a flood of late applications, administrative hitches within the Department, etc.--that could derail the process, inviting a constitutional challenge to the legitimacy of the election.

Consequently, we believe that it is essential to permit all eligible voters who hold identity documents that are valid in terms of the Identification Act, 1997, to register and to vote using their current IDs.

We would therefore support the amendments to Clauses 1 and 11 of the Electoral Bill, as proposed by the Electoral Commission, rather than the amendment to Clause 6 proposed by the Department of Home Affairs.

The EC and Department amendments differ significantly only in the way that they treat the 2,5 million voters with non-barcoded IDs (see annexed comparison). The Department's amendments would require people in this category to: 1) apply for a barcoded ID and get a temporary certificate for the purposes of registration; and 2) obtain a barcoded ID before the election. The EC's amendments would significantly reduce the immediate burden on the Department by enabling holders of non-barcoded IDs to register and vote without obtaining any additional documentation. The Department would be able to devote its efforts to ensuring that there are, in fact, no potential voters without identity documents.

The novel feature of the EC amendment is that it addresses the government's desire to promote the conversion of old IDs. By permitting the Minister to determine a date after which voters who have not obtained a barcoded ID can be removed from the voters roll, the amendment keeps the pressure on voters to apply for a new document. However, this approach minimises the possibility that otherwise eligible voters could be turned away from the polls.

We urge you to support the amendments proposed by the Electoral Commission.

Revd. Malcolm Damon
Co-ordinator, Public Policy Liaison

Comparison of amendments to the Electoral Bill (B69B-98) as proposed by Home Affairs and the Electoral Commission

Additional documents required by various categories of citizens in order to register and vote in the 1999 National and Provincial Elections


If you currently have

A barcoded identity document

A non-barcoded identity document

No identity document

in order to register you would need:

in order to vote you would need

in order to register you would need

in order to vote you would need

in order to register you would need:

in order to vote you would need:

Dept. of Home Affairs plan

Nothing more

Nothing more

Temporary form

Barcoded ID

Temporary form

Barcoded ID

Electoral Commission plan

Nothing more

Nothing more

Nothing more*

Nothing more

Temporary form*

Barcoded ID (or Temporary ID)

A barcoded identity document is one issued after 1 July 1986 in terms of section 8 of the Identification Act, 1986, and recognised as valid in terms of section 25 of the Identification Act, 1997.
A non-barcoded identity document is one issued prior to 1 July 1986 and recognised as valid by in terms of section 25 of the Identification Act, 1997. It includes old green IDs, old blue IDs, the old "dompas", and TVBC identity documents.

A temporary form is a form or certificate that would be issued by the Director-General: Home Affairs to an applicant for a barcoded identity document in terms of either the amendments proposed by the Dept. of Home Affairs or the EC. Both Home Affairs and the EC are proposing a similar form that would show the applicant's name, gender, date of birth, and identity number from the National Population Register and would carry a recent photograph of the applicant. According to the Director-General: Home Affairs, such forms could be issued immediately upon application at any fixed office of Home Affairs, and within one day upon application at any mobile unit.

* The EC amendments would allow voters registering with a non-barcoded ID or a temporary form to be deregistered if they are not issued with an ID card or document in terms of the Identification Act, 1997, by a specific date (after the 1999 elections) to be determined by the Minister of Home Affairs. Consequently, anyone registering with an old ID would need to obtain a new ID in order to remain on the voters' roll after 1999.