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The Open Society Foundation For South Africa has published a handbook for the media to ensure they are well-informed about elections and voting, as well as the structure of government.
TO inform the public about their voting rights, the media must have an in-depth knowledge of how democracy, elections and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) work.

 

Norman du PlessisNorman du Plessis, IEC's deputy electoral officerWith this in mind, the Open Society Foundation For South Africa has launched an election resource handbook for journalists titled A Touchpad to our Future. The foundation supports civil society organisations that work in the areas of criminal justice, media, governance, human rights and democracy.
 

The handbook was launched on 30 March at the Westcliff Hotel in Parkview. It covers a variety of topics, including a brief history of the country’s first democratic elections, elections in general and South Africa’s laws and media laws and how to use them for elections.

“We are talking about the media and journalists,” reads a passage from the handbook. “In the history of humankind, and no less so in South Africa’s turbulent history of colonialism, apartheid and the struggle for democracy, the media has played a key role in shaping and recording events and public opinion.”

According to the handbook, the media have over the years been able to provide a voice for the powerful, the oppressed and the voiceless. The book can be used as a quick reference point, and it explains how government works. It also differentiates between the executive, legislature and judiciary.

The IEC’s deputy electoral officer, Norman du Plessis, was at the launch, where he praised the foundation for a job well done. He said it was important for reporters to be well informed so that they were in a better place to inform the public.

“Actual factual knowledge is very important and [it] plays a big role in evaluating and judging what is going on around you,” Du Plessis said.

The government
The executive is the Cabinet of the government; it is made up of the president, deputy president and cabinet ministers. It is the country’s highest decision-making structure.

The legislature is the law-making arm of government. It is where laws are debated and passed. At national level, the legislature is parliament. It consists of the National Assembly, which has 400 members representing the whole country, and the National Council of Provinces, which has 90 members.

 

The handbook will help mediaThe handbook will help media understand how elections and the IEC workThe judiciary is the courts of the country. They decide and watch over all the laws of the country, including the Constitution. There are several levels of court – the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal, high courts, juvenile courts and other special courts.
 

Voters’ 10 most important rights are also listed in the handbook. These are:

The right to free and fair elections – voters have the right to get information they need to make up their own minds.
The right to vote – this is their political right under the Constitution and their democratic right as a citizen.
The right not to vote – it is also their democratic right to decide against voting, and no-one should force anybody to vote.
The right to spoil the ballot paper – it is every voter’s right to spoil their vote by deliberately voting for more than one party or by filling in their ballot paper in such a way that counting officials are not able to work out for whom they are voting.
The right to vote in their district on each ballot paper – in this year’s municipal elections, every voter has the right to cast two or three votes for ward candidates in their metro, local or district council.
The right to choose their own political party or candidate – no-one is allowed to try to buy anybody’s vote or make threats against voters to vote for any party for which they do not wish to vote.
The right to a secret vote.
The right to get help to vote – those candidates who are blind or have disabilities should be able to get help at voting stations, without hassles.
The right to vote safely – there should be security so that voters can vote in a safe environment.
The right to make a complaint – if a voter is unhappy about harassment or intimidation at the voting station.
This year’s local government elections will be held on Wednesday, 18 May. To vote, a person must be a South African citizen, be over the age of 18 and have a green bar-coded identity document.

The voter should also be registered on the voters’ roll at their nearest registration station. The last chance to register was on 5 and 6 March. Voting stations will open from 7am to 7pm on election day.

These will be the fourth democratic local government elections. The first took place in 1995, a year after the historic national elections of 1994.

National and provincial elections also take place every five years. In South Africa, voters choose a political party as opposed to an individual. Depending on number of voters, political parties then get seats in parliament in proportion to the votes each party received.

For more information contact the IEC’s call centre on 0800 11 8000 or send an email to iec@elections.org.za.

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