Electoral reform bill: Independent candidates want to champion service for South Africans failed by politics accreditation

Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee will consider submissions on the Electoral Amendment Bill.

In June 2020, a Constitutional Court ruling declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional. The committee is on a drive to present amendments to adhere to the directive of the Constitutional Court. Independent candidates running for political office removes the notion that South Africans must belong to a political party to enjoy representation at any level of governance.

This is according to Mark Willemse – the deputy mayor of the coastal town of Knysna in the Western Cape – who was elected as an independent candidate after serving at the behest of the DA.

On Wednesday, he and several residents aired their views on the much-debated Electoral Amendment Bill during a public hearing in Mossel Bay, which was hosted by Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee.

Willemse, elected in the recent 2021 municipal elections, said there is a view that those who do not belong to a political party are not being served.

“There are many voters who no longer resonate with the empty promises of political parties, who put ideology ahead of service delivery. These people now have a voice in local government as I represent them. The people must govern, and independent candidates will play a critical role in service delivery.

“The space we provide takes away the idea that you have to belong to a political party to have representation at any level. We will take away the space that is currently not serving our local communities or the country as a whole,” he said.

Willemse – previously a DA councillor, who did not toe the party line in the previous council – was elected deputy mayor after the November municipal elections.

He said:

We do not speak to a specific political doctrine. We serve the community. I am there to serve the community. That is the vote that has been given to us to represent those that do not believe in the current political dispensation. As we see, there is infighting and strife in political parties. Communities are tired of that. Why must they see the leaders fighting among each other that are meant to lead the country?
Willemse said independents would represent a community of “people tired of a politics that serves them”.

In June 2020, a Constitutional Court ruling declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional.

The New Nation Movement (NNM) launched a bid to allow an independent candidate to run for office in general elections and challenged the current Electoral Act 73 of 1998, arguing that it infringed on the right to exercise individual political choices. The NNM wanted the act to be amended to allow independent candidates to run in provincial and national elections.

The Constitutional Court found that channelling individuals to stand as candidates only through political parties was unconstitutional as it was a negation of political rights guaranteed under Section 19 of the Constitution.

The Constitutional Court’s June 2020 order directed Parliament to correct the act.

The judgment was suspended for 24 months for Parliament to amend the legislation.

Mervin Mienies, an ANC member from Oudtshoorn, wanted to know to whom independent candidates would be accountable.

‘All the small guys want the big positions’

“We do not support this bill. To whom do they go back to report on what they did. Independents are always kingmakers and always want the positions. This will not work in a national structure. We will have to amend the Constitution.

“Coalitions in South Africa at the national level will never work. All the small guys want the big positions. The IEC is already a mess. Policies will have to change because independents want to be included in the policy decisions,” he said. Another Oudtshoorn resident, John Peterson, said the bill – if passed – would lead to more problems.

“If this is going to be accepted, it will make a mockery of our governance system. Look at the Oudtshoorn municipality. It’s a shame. We formed a coalition, and it’s a nightmare. There is no service delivery. ‘Die stert swaai nou die hond’. (The tail is wagging the dog),” he said.

The Afrikaans expression “die stert swaai nou die hond” refers to when something important is being led or controlled by something less so.

Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee will consider all the submissions made during physical and virtual public hearings.


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