The South African local government elections and the COVID-19 pandemic

tariro-sekeramayi
Author: Tariro Sekeramayi
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

South Africa’s local government elections, to elect the municipal tier of government, are constitutionally mandated through section 159 of the Constitution of South Africa to take place every five years. These elections were scheduled to take place towards the end of 2021 and have been the subject of great deliberation in the nation. Conducting elections during a pandemic has been the subject of much debate on the continent and worldwide, with certain countries choosing to continue with elections amid the pandemic and others choosing to postpone their elections amid concerns of the risks involved. Nations on the continent that have held elections during the pandemic include Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Côte d’Ivoire. Given the extent of the risks of holding elections during the pandemic and mixed calls on whether to postpone or continue with elections in the nation, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa ordered an inquiry commission to determine the nation’s capacity to hold free, fair elections during the initially scheduled period in October.

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The tragic dialectic between happiness and apartheid

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Some political speeches announce tragedies. In South Africa, the tragedy was announced during a radio broadcast on 17 March 1961, when the people heard the following statement: “The policy of separate development is designed for happiness, security, and stability (…) for the Bantu as well as the whites”. It was the first phrase proclaimed by the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, in his Address to the Nation. The policy of separate development would prove to be a scandalous euphemism. Verwoerd continued to promise that “we shall provide all our races with happiness and prosperity”.[1] Verwoerd would become known as “the architect of apartheid”.

The South African Governor-General was Supreme Chief in the Transvaal up until 1956. At that time, Cape Africans were considered too advanced to be treated as an underclass. Elizabeth Landis, an American expert on Southern Africa affairs, explains that the government had to change this consideration, with the explanation that ‘if we want to bring peace and happiness to the Native population (…) then we cannot do otherwise than to apply this principle which has worked so effectively in the other three provinces, to the Native population of the Cape as well (…)”.[2] Happiness therefore becomes a scapegoat.

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Biko and the right to happiness

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Stephen Bantu Biko occupies a singular place in South African history, precisely because of the manner in which his legacy affected South African constitutionalism.

Biko fought for equal treatment under the law, and proudly founded the Black Consciousness Movement in order to achieve this goal. Biko engaged in a fearless debate related to the victims of racism and colonialism which encompassed the degradation of self-esteem and the inflicted inferiority complex of black South Africans. Biko’s struggle against white authority in order to promote and defend democracy has left a legacy of ideas which would influence future South African generations, including the sentiment of “one man, one vote”.

In 1970, Steve Biko stated that “in order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa”.[1] At the time, Biko was a doctoral student and political activist. He was arrested in August 1977. Biko was kept naked and manacled, and died twenty-five days later from brain damage.

Biko envisioned a more inclusive and deeper interpretation of democracy, as opposed to its purely material application. For him, “material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills. And this latter effect is probably the one that creates mountains of obstacles in the normal course of emancipation of the black people”.[2]

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