Countdown to free and fair elections in South Africa

The ICJ releases today the full text of a statement that marks the end of a mission conducted to South Africa.

No Delay

1) It is our judgement that the elections must not be postponed. The politicians have no more room for manoeuvre. Everywhere we have been, in the townships and the rural areas, people want the new South Africa to start on 27 April 1994. Any delay will bring the great risk of an explosion. The prospect of the election is the only thing which is keeping the passions of ordinary people from boiling over.

Unacceptable if Millions in the Independent States Cannot Vote

2) The elections must take place everywhere, in the homelands and the independent States, as well as in South Africa. The homelands and the independent States were created by South African legislation as part of the grand design of apartheid. The independent States have not been recognised by the outside world. The legislation which was passed can be repealed, so that the traces of apartheid are removed. In any event it would be unacceptable if the millions of people who live in the independent States – we understand there are 3,5 million in Bophutatswana alone – were not allowed to vote. If they cannot vote we fear there is a great risk they would take the law into their own hands. This is a problem which the South African Government must resolve now, so that voter education can proceed, and everyone can be issued with an identity document.

Acceptable Elections

3) We believe that acceptable elections can be held on 27 April. We say this having visited the tensest areas in the country. We say this knowing that the number of deaths has increased in Natal over the last 12 months. We say this knowing that the nature of the violence in the PWV regions has changed and that professional marksmen are shooting people at random on an almost daily basis.

We know that much needs to be done if the essentials of a free and fair election are to be secured.

The Essentials of a Free and Fair Election

4) The essentials of a free and fair election are:
(a) that the ballot should be and should be seen to be secret;
(b) that everyone who wants to vote has a realistic opportunity of obtaining the necessary identification documents;
(c) that everyone has a polling station within reasonable walking distance of his or her home;
(d) that people believe that it will be safe to vote.

Point (a) explains itself.

As to point (b) we are told that probably more than 3 million people do not have identification documents. The procedure for obtaining such documents is bureaucratic and slow. The process needs to be streamlined and taken to the people who need cards.

As to point (c) the present proposal is for 7 – 8 000 polling stations. This is a very serious underestimate. We are not in a position to assess the precise need, but we estimate from our own experience that it will be necessary to multiply the proposed number several times if everyone if to be able to walk to vote.

5) We welcome the Independent Electoral Commission Act and the first draft of the electoral Bill. We believe that the Independent Electoral Commission should succeed in ensuring a second ballot, satisfactory identification documents for all, and the necessary number of polling stations. We are, however, concerned that the Commission is not likely to be appointed until the beginning of November.

The Police – Part of the Problem

6) The most important element of free and fair elections is that people feel safe to vote. Here the South African Police force remains part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

We were told by a resident of Grassy Park, outside Cape Town, that “the role of the police all over the world is restraint”. That is the all pervasive view in the country and it must be changed. The function of a police force is to protect the public and bring those who break the law before the Courts. We made detailed suggestions about improving the police in our last report. We shall return to this in the report we are about to write.

It is not realistic to think that the Internal Stability Unit, the KwaZulu police or the other homeland police forces can play any part in policing free and fair elections.

The Peacekeeping Force

7) The negotiators at Kempton Park place high hopes on the new peacekeeping force which is provided for in the new legislation and hope that it will be deployed in the most volatile areas by April. It will not, however, be used to police the elections. We were told by the Deputy Minister of Law and Order and the Commissioner of Police that the peacekeeping force, drawn from all sides, may number 3-7000.

It must not be another para-military unit. It must act in accordance with the new concept of policing for the benefit of the community. The commanders must be chosen with care. The force must undergo rigorous training. The international community must be prepared to help with these tasks. We think it will be a great achievement indeed if the peacekeeping force is ready to playa constructive role in the trouble spots by April.

A Challenge for the International Community

8) We therefore think that the International Community must be prepared to offer much greater help with the elections than most people at present contemplate.

We recommend that the International Community should:

(a) At once double the present mission of the United Nations, the European Community, the OAU and the Commonwealth.
(b) Provide at least one monitor at all times at all polling stations.
We think that monitors can play a role similar to that played by UK policemen, standing unarmed in their helmets at the first Zimbabwe elections.
(c) Provide senior police advisors to support the South African police who will be in command of policing at the elections. The senior advisers should be backed up by police advisers at every police stations which is involved in policing the election. The police advisers should report directly to the Electoral Commission.
(d) The International Community should provide a reserve peacekeeping force of perhaps four to five battalions to be at the disposal of the Electoral Commission. These reserves which should be deployed from 1 February would come under a South African commander and would only be used as a last resort on the instructions of the Electoral Commission.

The price of a democratic, free, prosperous South Africa is a very great one. We were assured by the Ministers we met that help would be welcomed. The International Community must not fail South Africans.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), headquartered in Geneva, is a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the OAU. Founded in 1952, its task is to defend the Rule of Law throughout the world and to work towards the full observance of the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ICJ is composed of 31 distinguished jurists from around the globe and has 75 national sections and affiliated organizations.

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