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An open letter to the IEC

Dear Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa

Re: If you don’t vote — you can’t complain

I write in complaint of a campaign conducted by or under the authority of the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (hereinafter referred to as the IEC). This campaign bears the message, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain, vote on the 22nd April 2009”.

With all due respect to my learned colleagues and peers from whom this campaign and message no doubt originated, I find such a message offensive and distasteful in the extreme. I have felt this way for the last week wherein I have had the misfortune of being abused by the very bigotry, the very insolence of such a suggestion.

Indeed, it bears reference that we should consult the holy book of human rights, the very right cannon of South African law, being the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996. In doing so, naturally, we must assume for this purpose that the means by which Act 108 came to be the Constitution is in itself not tainted by the obvious conflict of the legislators who are governed by the Constitution, having enacted the rules which govern themselves in the first instance.

Thus we see that in § 3.2 that all citizens are equally entitled to the rights, privileges and benefits of citizenship and that they are equally subject to the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. Further, we see that in §19.3.a that every adult citizen, being a person of eighteen years or older in age, has the right to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution, and to do so in secret.

It doesn’t say that anyone is obliged to vote, obliged to participate or for that matter obliged to even care; whether or not the electoral process is regular, free, fair and open to all. While it is true that active citizenship involves active participation in the political process, however that active participation may come to be defined; the fact is that nobody is compelled or obliged to participate; nor may a person suffer a suspension or deprivation of any of the rights of citizenship as a penalty or punishment for abstention.

And while, yes, your message does make the jobs of the one million members of political parties in South Africa that much easier; it also compromises the rights of the forty-nine million other South Africans who are not members of political parties in South Africa. Further, what should be noted is that the people who abstain, who don’t register to vote, who don’t vote on election day and who spoil their ballots are in effect voting for “none of the above” — and that “party” strangely has won every election ever held in South Africa.

Even if we are to assume that 25-million South Africans are not eligible to vote, then it is clear that among those who are eligible to vote, that there are some who have neglected or refused to register to vote; and thus, who are unlikely to turn out on the 22nd April 2009. This in itself should indicate a general unhappiness among these unregistered but eligible voters.

Nonetheless, it is our national and hereditary right as South Africans to abstain and to complain, nay, in fact it is our national prerogative, to abstain and then to complain and complain bitterly. Just think about the non-participation and complaining which was the anti-apartheid struggle to see what I mean in this respect. We are a nation of armchair critics and umpires, a nation of South Africans who demonstrate a greater interest in professional sport than we do in government. And that is our God-given right.

So with due respect to the IEC and its staff, please be advised that your message, is unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal and more specifically un-South African. I therefore accuse the IEC of treason and sedition, which has been perpetrated in the most insidious fashion, and demand remedy in the form of the immediate removal and replacement of your campaign in this regard.

Yours in Liberty

Avishkar Govender
eThekwini-Durban
Kingdom of KwaZulu
South Africa