The administration of the 2016 local government elections in South Africa has been celebrated as yet another important contributor to the delivery of free and fair elections. Yet competitive elections, an essential component of any democratic system, require more than smooth running administrative systems. Competitive elections require conditions that create a climate of tolerance, free political campaigning, and open public debate. An election without freedom to campaign is doomed to be stunted and inefficient as the right to freedom of expression is one of a web of mutually supporting rights the Constitution affords to citizens. This paper presents an analysis of narrative reports on instances of violations of the Electoral Code of Conduct, including intimidation and violence, gathered by Civil Society violence monitors and election observers from 1 March until 31 September 2016. The analysis reveals that whilst the vast majority of South Africans can vote and express their opinions without fear of retribution, there are underlying tensions militating against constitutionally protected political rights. When viewed in conjunction with the Afrobarometer survey data (2016) on perceptions of political space in South Africa, in the context of Diamond and Morlino’s minimum requirements for democracy, it becomes clear that pre-election campaign space is fragile and not given, and will therefore need to be nurtured in future elections.
Presenter biography: Nkosikhulule Xhawulengweni Nyembezi is a PhD Candidate in Public Law, a policy analyst, a researcher, and a human rights activist. His research interests are in the areas of Electoral Democracy and Good Governance, Socio-Economic Rights, Anti-Corruption Institutional Frameworks, and Early Childhood Development.
He has been involved in the coordination of civil society election-monitoring programmes in the national, provincial and local government since 1994, and serves as the Co-Chairperson of the National Co-ordinating Forum – a platform that brings together civil society formations and the Independent Electoral Commission. He also served as a community representative in the Development Chamber of the National Economic Development and Labour Council.