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Expats urged to register before voters’ roll closes



South Africans living abroad are urged to register to vote before the official proclamation of the election date comes into effect – which could happen any day now – after which the voters’ roll will be closed.

At the time of going to print, online registration was still in effect.

And expats living in Israel who have registered to vote are waiting in limbo to hear if they will be able to exercise their democratic right.

There has been an absence of consular services since the closure of the South African embassy in Tel Aviv at the end of last year.

Voters living in other places abroad are also waiting for news about whether more voting stations will be made available to make the process more accessible.

South Africa’s electoral system doesn’t allow for electronic voting, this being the first year eligible voters could register to vote online.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday, 20 February, that South Africans would go to the polls for the 2024 general elections on Wednesday, 29 May.

South Africans living abroad will vote before this date provided they have registered to vote, which they still can.

The department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) earlier informed the IEC (Electoral Commission of South Africa) that it had closed voting missions in Israel, Ukraine, and Sudan due to “security concerns”. Up until this week though, the IEC encouraged South Africans living in these countries to register online, although it remains unclear whether they will be able to put that right into action.

For South Africans living in Israel disillusioned with the souring of relations between the government and Israel, this election is particularly momentous.

“It’s likely to be an historic election,” said Leanne Zabow, a clinical psychologist who lives in Ra’anana, “challenging taken-for-granted outcomes and bringing to the fore domestic and foreign policy issues, with the South African government’s stance on Israel having particular relevance for Jews and South Africans in Israel.”

However, Dorron Kline, the chief executive of Telfed in Israel, which supports the community of Southern African and Australian olim, said that at the moment, there’s no place in Israel for South Africans to vote “unless people are prepared to travel to Ramallah, where there’s a South African office offering consular services, which is highly unlikely given the situation. Or perhaps travel to countries like Cyprus, Greece, or London, which is also unlikely.”

Kline said 25 000 South Africans had made aliya since 1948. “Many of those have passed away, and some of them are children. You are looking at between 15 000 to 18 000 potential voters,” he said.

The exact number of those who registered to vote wasn’t known at the time of going to press.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and the South African Zionist Federation have been urging potential voters abroad to register to vote in the hope of lobbying the government to make voting options available once numbers became available.

The SAJBD has been engaging with Dirco since the embassy closed on 17 November to obtain consular services for South Africans who are in difficult situations, said SAJBD National Director Wendy Kahn.

“The sudden closure resulted in many not knowing where to turn,” she said. “This lack of consideration for its own citizens living in Israel was raised at our meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa on 13 December.” She said the Board had been working closely with Dirco and had managed to resolve some of the issues, but there were still some serious issues outstanding.

“Our priority is to finalise an acceptable system to provide consular services for Israel. Once we have done that, we’ll start to focus our attention on how we can ensure that these systems can be used to allow our citizens to vote,” Kahn said.

“I’m hoping that Dirco agrees to a voting station in Israel and more stations elsewhere, but at the very least, to those able to travel to vote, South Africa needs your help,” said Kim Kur, the founder and lead volunteer of Community Circle SA, a 25 000-strong organisation of South Africans and dual nationals abroad living in more than 100 countries.

“It’s estimated that there are about two million South Africans living abroad,” Kur said. “The IEC has said that 45 000 have registered to vote, which sounds like a drop in the ocean, but every single vote counts. Fifty thousand votes can get one seat in parliament. If you don’t vote, you remove any chance of having your voice heard.”

There has been a last-ditch attempt by political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and communal organisations over the past few weeks to urge all eligible voters abroad to register to vote before the official proclamation of the election, after which the voters’ roll is closed. Information about the number of potential voters is vital to lobby the government and IEC for more stations abroad.

The DA approached the Electoral Court on 15 February to force Dirco to open more voting stations abroad. The party has been battling this issue for several months following complaints from South Africans living in countries like Australia and China about lengthy travel distances to embassies. The DA has requested the inclusion of all embassies, high commissions, and consulates as voting stations abroad.

Michael Bagraim, the DA shadow minister for employment and labour, said he believed the African National Congress (ANC) was “deliberately retarding the process”.

“In essence, both the ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters are fully aware that those that have left South Africa have left for good reason. The electronic voting system needs to be upgraded, improved, and put into full working order pending the forthcoming elections,” he said.

“This is a watershed election in South Africa. Each seat can make an enormous difference in a coalition government come the end of May 2024,” Bagraim said.

According to recent figures, the total registration abroad as of 19 February was 45 723. Only 15 374 out of an estimated 217 000 South Africans living in the United Kingdom are registered – 7% of the total.

There are 4 542 South Africans registered at The Hague; 1 923 in Dublin; 1 890 in Dubai; and 1 898 out of about 206 000 South Africans in Australia are registered (9%).

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