OPINION: We must continue to fight for political tolerance where no political candidate is prevented from campaigning, their campaign activities are not hindered, their campaign materials are not damaged or destroyed, writes Mawethu Mosery.
The final days of preparation for general and / or by-elections are crucial to ensure free political activity and access to voters without interference.
It is also crucial that political stability and peace are visibly felt by all during this time.
A peaceful environment promotes voter activity and better participation at the polls. In our research studies with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), it is evident that when voters are more satisfied with safety and security, they are more likely to vote.
What then is tolerance? Simply put, it is an individual or entity that supports different views, ideas and statements. Tolerance is required in all aspects of life – not just in politics.
Do we have tolerance towards other cultures, racial groups, ethnic groups, gender, disability, faith, etc. ? Are you able to stay in your space and not interfere and undermine the person with points of view different from yours?
In the political environment, there is a lot of literature on political tolerance. All literature considered, the fact remains that we must create a free political space for all ideas and points of view to be shared and debated.
More importantly, political tolerance during election campaigns allows for free political activity for all political parties and individuals who stand for election. They must be free to campaign and reach voters anywhere in the geo-space of this election.
In our South African democracy, we have coined so many terms for political intolerance like “no-go zones” (in isiZulu alubhadwa) “Political hot spots” etc., as if these were normal in a functioning democracy.
We must continue to fight for political tolerance where no political candidate is prevented from campaigning, their campaign activities are not hindered, their campaign materials are not damaged or destroyed.
It is possible that we can achieve a peaceful election, not an election that has a prefix: a relatively peaceful election.
We have the code of conduct in our election laws which seeks to promote good and positive conduct among the election candidates.
Note that I use election candidates to nominate both political party candidates and independent candidates, including political parties.
I insist on this because in other areas they show tolerance towards political parties and candidates of political parties, but go to the extreme of political intolerance towards independent candidates who stand for election. .
The tolerance as stated above is not only towards those who are candidates but also towards their activities and supporters.
The code seeks to promote an environment where there is even cooperation between political candidates in order to minimize the risk of an incident triggering tension and intolerance.
The code of conduct is supported by the actions of many state actors to ensure that we as a country maintain a peaceful environment for the elections. This includes the commitment of political parties and all their supporters and independent candidates and supporters to adhere to the code of conduct.
The code protects the Election Commission from unfair criticism which is also baseless. The latter poses the question to the so-called opinion and or view.
The electoral court has sufficient powers to hear breaches of the code and can be referred directly to political parties and public interest entities.
The court may, when it finds a violation, impose remedies and sanctions, including the following; warning, fine, forfeiture of deposits, prohibition of that person or party from a whole range of political activities, to name a few, appearance in the media; hold meetings; solicitation of votes; erect billboards or posters; distribute campaign materials; election advertising; receive funds; enter polling stations; reduce the votes cast in their favor; disqualified candidates; and the cancellation of the registration of this party.
The electoral tribunal has in the past issued its orders on political intolerance and intimidation which is also considered a form of intolerance.
In a court case in Mbabazane municipality in KZN in a by-election in 2009, where a political party engaged in intimidation and possibly violence at noon on election day, the court broadly ruled that the election was not free and fair and overturned the result of the by-election won by the alleged instigator political party.
In another case in 2019, the electoral tribunal ruled that it was unfair language or a political campaign, but the electoral commission had exceeded its jurisdiction.
The role of the Election Commission has been reduced to an investigation with the intention of appealing to the electoral tribunal or facilitating mediation.
What then is the role of the electoral commission in the event of a breach of the code of conduct? The role and function of the commission should focus on the primary duty of organizing elections and creating an environment conducive to the holding of free and fair elections.
This suggests that if free and peaceful political space is obstructed and violates the code, other state actors must take responsibility.
Mainly the security forces, mainly the police, must intervene to create stability and also to arrest and deal with criminal offenses.
Provisions for dealing with them in this way are included in the conduct prohibited in our electoral laws.
Among the prohibitions are: breach of the code, abuse of influence, impediment to reasonable access to voters, undermining of the impartiality and independence of the electoral commission, unlawful impediment to holding meetings / demonstrations / political events, identity theft, intentional misrepresentation, breach of secrecy and obstruction or non-compliance with the instructions of the electoral commission.
The SAPS is sufficiently trained by the electoral commission and the internal training unit to monitor and investigate these arrangements.
The NPA has participated in the training sessions and stands ready to pursue these cases. Therefore, the commission has only one role: to rebuild peace where it has been hampered and subject the candidates to high-profile resolution and good behavior in the future.
The province of KZN has moved ahead of the country to also create a structure jointly with the CIS to intervene where there are areas of political tension and intolerance. The committee on which all the competing political parties sit is called the Multiparty Political Intervention Committee.
This is in keeping with the province of KZN where political intolerance has deprived the province of peaceful elections since our democracy.
Since 2011, the MPPIC has been established so that citizens do not take peaceful elections for granted, but know that we must continue to work for peaceful coexistence and tolerance in our democracy.
We have recently noticed a difficulty in intervening in the new phenomenon of intolerance within political parties.
This seems to be best dealt with by the political party itself and / or by the arm of the state as pure criminality, whoever is involved in these incidents.
There is a strong demand for civic, political and democratic education to equip our citizens to participate in electoral democracy while building peace and political tolerance.
The incidents of the past weekend should not be tolerated by our citizens and state actors. Likewise, neither should we accept manifestations of service delivery that interfere with the rights of others in a democracy. In addition, proactive statements and behaviors should also be avoided.
More importantly, in today’s environment, people are exposed to misinformation and disinformation on our media platforms and believe it is a fact and a truth. These unverified stories are sometimes a source of dismay when they are made public unverified and unfounded.
Political tolerance is an essential ingredient to legitimize the success of an election and for the country to organize peaceful, free and fair elections.
Let us not forget that electoral democracy is a contest to win votes and an elected mandate to control and distribute the resources of the state.
So it is full of competitive activity and therefore can have tensions and then it remains how we deal with those tensions.
* Mawethu Mosery is the IEC Deputy Chief Electoral Officer responsible for voter outreach and communication.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the IOL and the independent media.