Voting day from the frontlines
Along with several of my colleagues at the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), I had the pleasure of being part of the observer team that assisted the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) during Monday’s local government elections.
As the organisation mandated not only to organise the elections (itself a formidable task), but to ensure that they are free, fair, and above board, the IEC plays a critical part in safeguarding our hard-won democratic freedom. To help it fulfil its mission and enable members of our own and other communities to contribute to the democratic process beyond simply turning out to vote, the Board has since 2009, headed up a team of volunteers to monitor the voting and vote counting on polling day.
The team is fully accredited by the IEC. Prior to the elections, volunteers attend election observer briefings around the country, and channels of communication are set up so that any problems can be immediately reported to the team co-ordinator (a role Alana Baranov has performed with distinction from the outset) who then relays the information to the IEC. The team has grown with each succeeding election, so that in 2019, it comprised more than 200 observers stationed at polls across seven provinces.
In view of this year’s election being for local government only, combined with the impact of COVID-19 and a delayed start due to the late confirmation of the election date, there was some uncertainty about whether organising a team would be possible this time round. Happily, we were able to put together a committed group of nearly 50 individuals from around the country. As in previous elections, we had Jewish community members from Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Cape Town, and smaller cities, as well as people of various nationalities and religions. It was gratifying that in addition to first-time participants, our call for volunteers brought back many that had been part of previous teams. This is an amazing initiative by the SAJBD, as we continue to be active participants in our country’s democracy.
I chose to be an observer at the polling station at Hyde Park High School. In spite of some technical snags, voting proceeded smoothly and efficiently. The IEC staff were unfailingly courteous and helpful, particularly the presiding officer, who did a sterling job of managing the process. For various reasons, voter turnout was low in these elections. This is a great pity, as the right to vote in South Africa was hard-won. I still bear with pride the purple mark on my thumb signifying that I have voted in a fully democratic election in South Africa. Like you, I’m now watching the results come in with enormous interest. The political shifts and how they are interpreted will no doubt provide food for thought for many Shabbos table discussions and debates over the next few weeks.
Tribute to John Moshal
We were saddened last week to learn of the passing of John Moshal, a doyen of the Jewish community of KwaZulu-Natal. Among other positions held, he was president (later honorary life president) of the council of KwaZulu-Natal Jewry, and served for more than 30 years on our national executive committee. Tributes poured in as a testament to his leadership and philanthropy, and we join in sending condolences to his family.
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