Election Report: 2000 Municipal Elections


Municipal structures, councils and councillors

  1. The electoral system in terms of which municipal elections are held is set out in the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, 117 of 1998 (“the Municipal Structures Act”). This Act can be described as the constitution for South Africa’s first fully democratic local government dispensation.
  2. The Municipal Structures Act (together with the Local Government: Municipal Demarcation Act, 27 of 1998) required the entire country to be divided into municipal areas by the Municipal Demarcation Board. The MEC for local government in each province was mandated to establish a municipality for each of the demarcated municipal areas, at the same time determining the number of councillors for each municipal council. In total 284 municipal councils (6 metropolitan councils, 231 local councils and 47 district councils) were so established – a district council area covering the areas of a number of local councils.
  3. The Demarcation Board was also charged with the delimitation of wards within those municipalities that were to have wards, that is, metropolitan councils and local councils with seven or more councillors. The Demarcation Board delimited 3 754 wards in 229 municipalities. In those municipalities with wards, half the councillors were elected by a proportional representation (PR) system using party lists and the other half in wards where individual candidates (either independent or nominated by a party) competed in first-past-the-post elections (where the candidate with more votes than any other is elected, even though not necessarily having gained the majority of the votes). Where a council had wards, overall proportionality was restored by deducting the number of seats won by a party’s ward candidates from the number of seats won by that party in the party list election.
  4. In local councils with fewer than seven members all the seats were filled by a PR election, and in district councils some 60% of the seats were filled by nominations from constituting local councils while the remaining seats (± 40%) were filled by PR elections.
  5. Voters in metropolitan areas and in local council areas without wards voted on two ballot papers (local council PR and district council PR) while voters in local council areas with wards voted on three ballot papers (local council PR, local council ward and district council PR). A very few voters voted on one ballot paper only.

Electoral Acts

  1. The legal framework governing the conduct of the elections is found in the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act, 700 of 2000, read with portions of the Electoral Act, 73 of 1998, and regulations issued by the Commission under these Acts.
  2. The 1998 Electoral Act applies in elections for the National Assembly, provincial legislatures and municipal councils. This Act, however, was passed before the structures of the new municipal councils were given final statutory status by the enactment of the Municipal Structures Act. While providing therefore for the full range of electoral arrangements for national and provincial elections, it contains no specific provisions for municipal elections.
  3. The 1998 Electoral Act (in section 32) authorised the Commission to further regulate municipal elections by making regulations regarding virtually every aspect of such an election. The implication of this regulatory power was that the Commission would have had to provide for the management of the entire municipal election process by means of regulations. The Commission was of the view that this was unsatisfactory and that municipal elections, in the same way as national and provincial elections, should mainly by regulated be Parliamentary legislation and not by regulations made by the Commission (a subordinate legislative body).
  4. Once an election plan for the new type of municipal elections had been drawn up in consultation with the Party Liaison Committee (National) and other stakeholders, a legal framework was drafted to accommodate the plan. In view of the large-scale adjustments to the 1998 Electoral Act that would have been necessary if this legal framework were to have been enacted by way of amendments to that Act, the Commission recommended the adoption of a new electoral act specifically for the municipal elections. The 1998 Electoral Act could, in the interim, apply to national and provincial elections and once the future form of representation in the national and provincial legislatures had been decided on, the two electoral acts could be amalgamated.
  5. Both the Government and Parliament gave priority to the legislative process that produced the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act, 27 of 2000. This Act and the regulations issued thereunder governed the municipal elections of 5 December 2000. Certain provisions of the 1998 Electoral Act (mainly those dealing with the national common voters’ roll) were not repeated in the new Act but applied to these elections by reference.

Founding elections

  1. The constitutional transition in the sphere of local government followed a more complex route than had been the case in the national and provincial spheres. Although councils for integrated municipalities were elected in 1995/96, ward representation in those councils was based on segregated areas and not on voter numbers.
  2. It was only with the passing of the Municipal Structures Act that an electoral system resulting in overall proportionality with all votes of equal value became a reality.
  3. The 5 December 2000 elections were therefore the founding elections for South Africa’s first truly democratic and fully representative municipal councils. These elections had the same historical significance for local government as did the 1994 elections for national and provincial government.

Complicating factors

  1. For voters, parties, candidates, the Commission, government departments and others involved, a number of factors complicated the elections:
    1. Constitutional timelines dictated by, the elections had to take place within the three-month period November 2000-January 2001. There was general agreement that this would be the worst time of the year for elections, for management, for electioneering and for voter turnout. There was also general agreement that within this period, November would be the best of the bad months. The second half of November was therefore originally targeted. The realities of demarcation, delimitation and the establishment (proclamation) of the municipalities, however, forced the election date into
    2. These were to be the first municipal elections under a new and, at first glance at least, fairly complex local government system.
    3. In metropolitan voting stations, two different ballot papers were to be used and in voting stations in most local municipal areas, three (for two different municipal councils). This demanded extra care in the printing and distribution of ballot papers. Furthermore, at first this must have sounded confusing to prospective voters. Eventually, however, a simple way was found of explaining this to ourselves and to voters: this election is no more complex than any other – you simply vote for the party or candidate of your choice on each ballot paper given to you.
    4. Given the constitutional deadline for the elections, the Municipal Demarcation Board appeared to face a virtually impossible task. Within a very short period it was required to demarcate (divide) the whole of the country into municipal areas and then to delimit most of those municipal areas into wards. Given the political and societal sensitivity of both municipal and ward boundaries for communities across the country, the Board performed a near miracle in delivering these boundaries when they did; but still it was extremely late in the day for MECs to establish a municipality for each of these areas, for parties and voters to familiarise themselves with the new municipalities and boundaries, and for the Electoral Commission to attend to changed voting districts, identify voting stations, appoint voting staff and see to logistics. The boundary determination and ward delimitation processes split a considerable number of existing voting districts, which resulted in maps having to be redrawn, voters having to be redistributed in the changed voting districts and voting stations having to be relocated – and all of this at a very late stage in the run-up to the elections. Even though the Commission opened all its voting stations across the country for inspection of the voters’ roll during the weekend of 16-17 September 2000, not all voters affected by changed municipal, ward and voting district boundaries took advantage of this opportunity to regularise their position. In a substantial number of cases the voters’ roll did not therefore accurately reflect where voters resided.
    5. For the 1999 national and provincial elections, the Commission appointed local electoral officers (LEOs) from the staff of municipalities to manage the registration and voting activities in each municipal area. These LEOs could rely on the support of the local municipal infrastructure. Many of these LEOs, together with their municipal administrations, had earlier been involved in the management of the 1995/96 elections in their municipalities. Having also gone through the 1999 registration and voting exercises, both LEOs and municipal administrations had gained invaluable experience and expertise in the running of elections. It would have been ideal if these same LEO/municipal administration teams could have managed the 2000 municipal elections but with the number of municipal areas having been reduced from 843 to 284, new local representatives (now called Municipal Electoral Officers – MEOs) had to be appointed for the new municipal areas. Furthermore, the new municipal areas did not as yet have their own municipal administrations and the new MEOs had to depend for support on the old municipal administrations (in most cases two or more of them), themselves in a state of transition, and whose areas of jurisdiction differed from those of the new MEO areas.
    6. Local elections attract less interest from international and internal observer groups than do national elections. Only a limited number of observers eventually covered voting on election day. Ideally, a neutral observer or observers should be present at each voting station. This contributes greatly to the credibility and acceptance of the outcome of an election.

Voting, counting and results

  1. Despite these complicating factors 5 December 2000 came and went without any major difficulties. With few exceptions, voting stations opened on time, stations were well staffed and provisioned, and voters did not have to wait in long queues.
  2. Although the electoral system may have been complex and almost all voters had to vote on more than one ballot paper, voters generally seemed comfortable with the marking of their ballot papers. Once it was generally realised that a voter did not have to understand the complexities of the system, but merely had to mark the party or candidate of choice, it became just another election.
  3. Sometimes the name of a citizen who had registered could not be found on the voters’ roll for a particular voting station. In such a case section 7 of the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act provided a procedure making it possible to vote. Such omissions most often resulted from lastminute changes in voting district boundaries, but some arose from historical difficulties in locating mapped boundaries and voting stations on the ground. But for section 7, these voters might have been disenfranchised through no fault of their own.
  4. As in the 1999 national and provincial elections, votes were counted at the voting stations where they were cast. Before voting commenced, every ballot box was shown to be empty to all officials and party agents present, before being sealed and used as a depository for marked ballot papers. The ballot boxes used remained within sight of officials and party agents in the public area of voting stations until they were opened for counting, which commenced immediately after voting stations were closed for voting. The result of the count was recorded and publicly announced at the voting station. Each recorded voting station result was then delivered by hand to the MEO for the municipality concerned to be used in the determination of the result of the elections for that municipal council.
  5. Counting at the voting station itself eliminates the transportation of ballot boxes to centralised counting points, which in turn eliminates any opportunity for tampering with the box or its contents and concomitant suspicions. This, together with the fact that every box remains in a public place within sight of a number of people from the time it is sealed for use until its contents are counted, makes it obvious why allegations of ballot box interference have all but vanished.
  6. Having received the recorded results of the counts from all the voting stations within the municipal area, the MEO set about first determining the result of the elections in every ward (if there were wards). This was a comparatively simple procedure as the candidate with the most votes (not necessarily the majority of the votes cast) was declared elected for that ward.
  7. Thereafter the MEO proceeded to determine the result of the PR election. This was a much more complicated exercise with a number of formulae to be applied and mathematical calculations to be made. A computer program had been developed allowing MEOs to feed the results of the counts into their nationally linked computers, whereupon the results of the PR elections were electronically determined. Being nationally linked, the exercise was simultaneously monitored and verified in the Commission’s Pretoria head office. Furthermore, external auditors, assigned to each MEO, were required to certify that the voting station counts were correctly entered electronically and the result determination procedure was carried out in the presence of party representatives and candidates.
  8. Once the results of the elections for the municipal council had been determined, the MEO recorded the results and declared them publicly.

Free and fair/credible and legitimate

The Commission is not statutorily required to certify elections as free and fair (or credible and legitimate – nowadays the more favoured terminology), but a report such as this might appear pointless if the
Commission did not at least express an opinion on the matter.

These are some of the criteria relevant to the freeness, fairness, credibility and legitimacy of elections:

  1. A constitutional and statutory framework conducive to free, fair and credible elections

    The South African constitutional and statutory framework can serve as an international model. The guiding principles are found in the Bill of Rights (sections 7 to 39 of the Constitution) and more
    particularly in section 19, which deals with political rights.
  2. The availability of a judicial process through which an aggrieved citizen or party can seek redress

    In South Africa an aggrieved person or party can seek redress in a special electoral court with wide-ranging powers. An aggrieved person or party could ordinarily also, depending on the
    circumstances of each case, seek redress in Magistrate’s Courts, High Courts and the Constitutional Court.
  3. An independent and impartial authority to manage elections

    The Constitution (in section 190) provides for an Electoral Commission to manage elections of national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies. The Commission is one of six state institutions “supporting constitutional democracy” that, in terms of section 181, “are independent, and subject only to the Constitution and the law, and [that] must be impartial and must exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice”. The Commission was established by the Electoral Commission Act, 51 of 1996.

    In practice the government of the day has never attempted to interfere with the functioning of the Commission. The government has also consistently expressed and demonstrated its commitment
    to funding the operations of the Commission adequately. At times the Commission and the Treasury have disagreed, and disagreed strongly, about what constitutes adequate funding, but always, in the end, the Commission has received sufficient to fulfil its mandate.

    As far as impartiality is concerned, an open dialogue is maintained with political parties. Party liaison committees have been
    established nationally, provincially and municipally where electionrelated issues are discussed and debated and, wherever possible, agreement is found. This transparent approach has contributed to a high level of trust between parties and the Commission. These liaison committees have also served as vehicles for the amicable settlement of interparty election-related disputes and thus helped to
    defuse tensions and arrive at peaceable solutions.
  4. A non-discriminatory procedure for the registration of voters

    Voter registration procedures and criteria are prescribed in Chapter 2 of the Electoral Act, 1998, and in the Voter Registration Regulations, 1998. Voters are South African citizens of 18 years
    and older whose names appear on the National Common Voters’ Roll and who are in possession of identity documents. The usual disqualifications concerning those of unsound mind apply. The constitutional right of every adult citizen to vote in elections for legislative bodies and the consequential right to be registered as a voter are affirmed in the legal framework covering the registration of
    voters. However, in practice it is more difficult for rural than for urban people to register because it is more difficult for them to obtain identity documents, and they live further away from the local registration offices (voters must apply for registration in person) and public transport may be non-existent or irregular and relatively expensive.

    The Commission is exploring ways of making it easier for all, but especially for rural voters, to register. Another area in need of attention is the registration of young people. A post-election survey
    concluded that young people (aged 18 to 29) were only half as likely as the average citizen to vote and that this fact is explained more by their failure to register than by a lack of interest in events on election day.
  5. Access by voters to information necessary for them to make informed choices and to become familiar with election procedures

    Here again the rural voter is at a disadvantage. The city dweller is much better served by schools, electronic and printed media, political party campaigning and formal voter education programmes. The Commission has been involved in civic education programmes and been active in the voter education field and has in addition registered voter education non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and raised funds for them. However, the Commission must admit to having no more than scratched the surface vis-à-vis rural areas. People in densely populated villages in remote rural areas thirst for information. These are the very areas where it is difficult for people to obtain identity documents and register as voters.
  6. Freedom to form parties and contest elections

    A party can participate in an election only if it has been registered in terms of the Electoral Commission Act and the Regulations for the Registration of Political Parties, 2000. These provisions are
    practical measures designed to ensure order by protecting parties’names, abbreviated names and symbols and by recording for public information their constitutions, addresses and chief officebearers. The legislation does not place any political or ideological obstacles in the way of those wishing to form parties and participate in elections, nor does it limit the number of parties that may register. The registration fees are not prohibitive: R500 for a party registering country-wide and R200 for a party registering for one municipality only. New parties, whether fresh or breakaway
    groupings, are, however, disadvantaged in two respects:
    1. They sometimes lack the technical know-how to guide them through the constituting and party registration processes. A distressing example came to the Commission’s attention in the run-up to the 5 December 2000 elections. A local group had formed themselves into a party, having elaborately gone through all the constituting procedures, recording the minutes and accompanying documents by hand. Sufficient voters’ signatures had been collected. Everything was done in good time, but through some misunderstanding the application had not been published timeously for the registration to be effected in time for the party to participate in the elections.
    2. A number of new parties felt aggrieved that only established parties receive state funding in terms of the Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act, 103 of 1997. Allocations are made from the Represented Political Parties Fund, established in terms of the Act and administered by the Chief Electoral Officer, to parties represented in Parliament and/or a provincial legislature. A party may use these funds “for any purposes compatible with its functioning as a political party in a modern democracy” – grants are not specifically election-related. This state funding must, however, give the established parties a great advantage over any emerging party. The Commission is of the view that this is a matter that requires critical consideration by Parliament.
  7. Transparency of the electoral process, particularly voting and counting

    The extent to which the 5 December 2000 elections met this criterion can be judged by referring to paragraph 5 above, which describes the voting, counting and results determination processes. The Group: Democracy and Governance of the Human Sciences Research Council conducted a survey of voters who participated in those elections (48% of registered voters). The survey took the form of an exit poll with questions put to a sample after they had voted or attempted to vote. Here are some extracts from the reported conclusions:
    1. “The vast majority (91%) of South Africans who participated in the 2000 local government elections were of the opinion that the elections were free and fair. About 84% of those interviewed were convinced about the secrecy of the ballot and more than 95% of the electorate indicated that they could exercise their votes without any form of intimidation.”
    2. “Voters generally found the voting procedures easy to understand. More than nine in ten voters indicated that they had no problems with the procedures inside the voting stations. This is particularly significant given the fact that some South Africans for the first time had to deal with more than two ballot papers.”
    3. “The majority of voters were of the opinion that there were no problems with the elections. More than two thirds of those interviewed indicated that they had experienced no problems with election related matters.”
    4. “The extent to which voting stations were accessible to voters is demonstrated by the fact that about two thirds of the voters could walk to their voting stations. An additional 25% used a car to reach the stations where they voted. More than four out of five voters took less than 30 minutes to reach the voting station where they had to vote. In addition, about nine out of every ten voters could cast their votes within thirty minutes of reaching the voting station.”

The Commission reports with confidence that the 5 December 2000 municipal elections were, in its judgement, free, fair, credible and legitimate.

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