Get out there – register to vote!

Sometime soon, probably in April or May 2014, there will be a General Election in South Africa.  Twenty years and four elections after the coming of full democracy in 1994 we are once again going to the polls.  And for the first time there will be ‘born free’ voters, young people who never lived under apartheid.  But they – and the rest of us – will have to be registered voters in order to exercise our hard-won rights.

Back in 1994 voting was relatively easy.  Because we wanted as many South Africans possible to vote, many standard rules were relaxed.  Even non-South Africans who were permanent residents were then allowed to vote.  All you needed was some kind of South African identity document.  It did not even have to be up-to-date – folks exiled in the 1960s who had kept their old passports or ID books were allowed to vote.

I served as an Independent Electoral Commission volunteer at Westminster Methodist Central Hall in London during the 1994 Election.  Many voters did not have up-to-date South African documentation.  Nevertheless, I recall that we turned away only two people out of more than 20,000 who voted at that polling station!  We even phoned up IEC headquarters in Johannesburg to confirm that their documents were insufficient – and we were as sad as they were when we had to turn them away.

Today, voting is not so simple.  Only adult citizens of South Africa may vote.  You must have valid ID documentation when you go to the polling station.  And you must be registered to vote – you must be on a list called the voter’s roll.  Normally you are expected to vote at a polling station nearest to where you live.  If for some reason you are not going to be there, you may have to make arrangements to vote where you will be staying.

The way to guarantee to be able to vote is to follow the IEC’s instructions regarding registration which are already flooding radio, TV, newspapers, and the IEC’s website (http://www.elections.org.za/).  If you voted before you don’t need to re-register (unless you have moved) but you might want to make sure that your details are correct.  You can do this by sending an SMS with your ID number to 32810.  If you are a first-time voter (whether a naturalised citizen or a ‘born free’) you must go to your nearest polling station to get registered and you can do that this weekend.

If you are not a South African citizen, you cannot vote here.  But you can almost certainly vote in your home country by post or by proxy.  But again you have to make sure you are registered.

The Catholic Church believes that democracy is the best form of civil government we have today. Good citizenship – an important part of Christian living – includes involvement in the political process and a key step in that is registering as a voter.

As we move towards another election, make sure you are registered to vote – especially if you are a first time voter! And then start thinking seriously about how you will exercise that vote.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ
B.A. (Hons), M.A. (UCT), B.A. (Hons) (London), M.Div., S.T.L. (Weston), Ph.D. (Wits)

Fr Anthony Egan SJ has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he currently teaches at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for Spotlight. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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