The Constitutional Court has handed down a breakthrough ruling which now allows registered voters living abroad to vote in the general elections on 22 April.
The highest court in the land ruled on 12 March that South Africans living abroad need to notify the chief electoral officer of their intention to vote by March 27.
Presiding Justice Kate O’ Regan, said that the right to vote had a symbolic and democratic value, which should be afforded to all South Africans, whether living in the country or abroad.
Speaking on the ruling, Justice Sandile Ngcobo said, “We have ruled that South African citizens who are living abroad will be allowed vote. However, those who are not registered to vote will not be allowed to vote.”
The case went before the Constitutional Court following an application by the political party the Freedom Front Plus, on behalf of a Pretoria schoolteacher working in the UK, who wanted to vote.
In February, Willem Richter took his case before the Pretoria High Court, where he ordered that the minister of Home Affairs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to extend the right to special votes to all categories of registered voters who are away from South Africa.
Other political parties who also submitted presentations on the issue included the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance and the A-Party, which also doubles as a lobby group.
An independent group of South Africans living overseas also made submissions before the court.
Responding to the ruling, the IEC’s Chief Electoral Officer Pansy Tlakula assured South Africans that the IEC will be able implement the court ruling.
Speaking in an interview with the local television channel etv’s news programme, eNews , Tlakula said she was confident the ruling had not thrown them off course, “I can assure South Africans we can pull that off.
“As the IEC we always anticipate the outcome [of such court cases] and plan for the worst, we have made contingency plans,” she said.
Tlakula also revealed that about 5 000 South Africans abroad had informed them of their intention to vote overseas, and she expects that this number would probably double in the wake of the new ruling.
Today’s ruling comes as a victory for thousands of frustrated South Africans living abroad, who had hoped to cast their votes in the upcoming elections.
In a desperate attempt to get the law to recognise the voting rights of South Africans living abroad, a group of concerned individuals formed a new political party, the A-Party.
During its fundraising campaign to take the issue to the constitutional court, party founder Anthony Penderis, also known as “Mr A” urged South Africans to get involved, “I need support to win the battle for expat voting rights” he was said during the party’s fundraising efforts.
Penderis says he believes South Africans were “robbed” of their voting rights by the Electoral Laws Amendment Act before the 2004 elections.
“To summarily rob people of their voting rights while they try to carve out a living in foreign countries is unfair and underhanded.
“Most of them were either forced out of their jobs in South Africa by affirmative action or felt threatened by the worsening crime situation,” he said in a statement released to the media.
He said most would return if local employment conditions improved.
Respondents could include the President, the head of the Independent Electoral Commission and one or more ministers in the Cabinet.