Electoral Commission pays tribute to Former Commissioner Stephanus Sebastiaan van der Merwe [16 December 1932 – 6 March 2023]

The Electoral Commission (Commission) mourns the loss of Mr Stephanus Sebastiaan van der Merwe, fondly known as “Fanie” or “SS”. Mr van der Merwe served as a founding Commissioner since the establishment of the Commission in 1997. The Commission has learned that he passed away on Monday, 6 March 2023.

With a training and background in law, Mr Van der Merwe rose through the ranks of the Department of Justice, with his public service career culminating in a decade and a half spent as Director-General of the Departments of Internal Affairs (now Home Affairs) and of Justice, as well as Head of the Constitutional Development Service, and Constitutional Adviser in the Department of Constitutional Development.

His role involved him in various activities that supported the transitional process logistically and otherwise in the transition to democratic government in South Africa.  He was, among others, intimately involved in the negotiations leading to the signing of the Peace Accord, and the establishment and structuring of CODESA. He served as a government delegate at CODESA and as a member of the two-person CODESA secretariat.  He was also a delegate at the Multiparty Negotiation process that followed on CODESA. Mr Van der Merwe went on to serve as a member of the two-person secretariat responsible for the administration and facilitation of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) in the period leading up to the 1994 elections.  

His activities at CODESA, the Multiparty Negotiation Process and the TEC involved him in the genesis of both the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Act that governed the 1994 elections. His association with the Department of Constitutional Development drew him into the Local Government Elections of 1995/6.  

Mr Van der Merwe was also part of a task group that drafted the bill for the establishment of the present Electoral Commission, which required research and reporting on a number of electoral systems.  He was appointed as a Commissioner of the Electoral Commission in July 1997, with the task of establishing the administration to deliver the 1996 national and provincial elections. He served two terms as a member of the Electoral Commission until his final retirement on 19 October 2011.

Commissioner Van der Merwe was soft-spoken and yet, a master of strategy. He is one of those who selflessly made his mark on the transformation of our democracy, in general, and electoral democracy, in particular. His impressive command of electoral legislation, together with a polite sense of humour, will remain a lasting legacy for us in the Commission.

As we mourn his loss, we celebrate the gentle giant that he was to all of us. We salute him and think of his loved ones at this difficult time. To them we say, thank you for sharing him with all of us. 

Ensuring free, fair and credible elections 

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