Speaking Notes: Sustaining Democracy in Africa of Bantu Holomisa, MP UDM President Conference sponsored by AU, IEC and IDEA (6 March 2007) 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Yes, we agree that electoral systems differ from country to country but irrespective of this, the important thing is to ensure that the tools attached to each system is known to the parties involved and that people have access to these tools.

These tools include financing and access to radio, TV and other media. In South Africa we have managed to put together an Independent Electoral Commission, but it still has a long way to go in terms of building infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

However political parties in South Africa have taken note that the playing field is not level when it comes to certain of these tools, such as access to SABC TV and Radio. It is simply not acceptable that only one political party receives exclusive live coverage of partisan and campaign events such as their manifesto launch, especially in 1999 and 2004; there is a saying "seeing is believing", and when these exclusive broadcasts occur the nation is glued to their televisions and radios. The impression is not only a favourable one that is being created for the ruling party, but also a negative one for all the other parties because voters must surely wonder "Where are they?", "Do they have nothing to say?"

It is indeed our right as political parties and role-players in shaping the democracy of South Africa that we should know everything regarding the electoral process and its management. What criteria are being used for instance in the selection of IT companies appointed by the IEC? We, all of the role-players, must be allowed to screen these and other IEC appointments and tenders because the way that BEE has been applied in other spheres of society it would not be surprising to discover that some of these companies that win these tenders are headed and/or controlled by "deployed" ruling party members.

The other electoral tool that must be reviewed is the officials that are used by the IEC during election periods. It is an open secret in this country that the IEC uses government employees who are members of COSATU and who are politically aligned to the ruling party. This raises questions about  the fairness of certain processes and decisions during elections; it is not surprising that some of these officials abuse their position to frustrate other parties and their agents. In fact some of those officials are leaders of the ruling party.

Another matter of inequality is the composition of South Africa's IEC Commissioners. In other countries in Africa and elsewhere the IEC Commissioners are - correctly - representative of all the political parties; however in South Africa we do not have this fair and equal treatment.

In South Africa we need a summit of all the role-players to address these issues. If the IEC, SABC and ICASA cannot tell us in advance what the official position is regarding the exclusive live coverage for political parties, then a group of political parties should come together and take the matter to court. This is supposedly a constitutional democracy, yet we see at times disturbing trends regarding the suppression of alternative views and the political parties that espouse them. We must soon have such a summit between all political parties, ICASA, SABC, IEC and other stakeholders to discuss these issues regarding the weaknesses in our electoral system; we cannot pretend that our electoral system is perfect and consequently sell our model to the rest of Africa when there remain major issues that must be resolved in our electoral system.

I thank you.

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