The princess versus the parliamentarians – again
Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has been dealt another blow in her application to further extend the deadline set by the Constitutional Court for amending the Electoral Act, which was found to be unconstitutional more than two years ago.
This after Princess Chantal Revell of the Koranna royal household, one of the five official royal priesthoods of the Khoi and San first nations, threw her weight behind the New Nation Movement in its opposition to any further extension and quest for strict oversight over the politicians who are seemingly unwilling to relinquish power.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has hardly any time left to accommodate the changes proposed in the current amendment bill before the 2024 provincial and national election, let alone any further changes that may be made.
The Constitutional Court in June 2020 declared the Electoral Act unconstitutional in that it does not allow candidates to participate in provincial and national elections unless they represent political parties.
Revell is the only applicant who wants to personally exercise her right to stand as a candidate outside of any political party affiliation; the others, including New Nation, being organisations representing civil society.
The court initially suspended its order of unconstitutionality for two years to give parliament an opportunity to amend the act and rectify the shortcomings.
Extensions to deadline
With the deadline looming in the middle of last year, it was clear the amendments would not be made in time, and despite objections by Revell and New Nation, the court gave an extension until the end of last year.
With only days to go, Mapisa-Nqakula, together with National Council of Provinces chair Amos Masondo and Minister of Home Affairs Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, approached the court for another extension to the end of February.
New Nation and Revell opposed this application and New Nation brought a counter application to be allowed to present arguments to show the court that the proposed amendments parliament has come up with are still not in line with the Constitution. Alternatively, they asked the court to compel parliament to report back on the progress it is making every two weeks.
Read: ConCourt presented with early challenge to Electoral Amendment Bill
The court then extended the deadline until January 31 to be able to hear arguments from all parties.
ConCourt’s hands tied
Failure to give a further extension would have given rise to a constitutional crisis, as the country would have been left without a valid Electoral Act and therefore no way to conduct lawful elections or by-elections, except at municipal level.
Revell has now indicated that she supports New Nation’s counter application.
In her affidavit she states that two-and-a-half years after the court acknowledged her right to represent her people in parliament, she still has no way to enforce this right. This because of the failure of parliament to execute what the court has ordered it to do. In fact, four years and one election have passed since the application was first brought in 2018.
Revell says despite her being a leader of the Khoi people, she feels as if she is not being seen or heard “and that me and my people [are] nothing!”.
“Since colonialism our people continue to live in abject poverty as if our lives don’t matter. And this, despite the fact that we can rightfully claim to be descendants of the first people of our country and that I am one of its recognised leaders.”
She accuses parliament of dragging its feet and says there is no valid reason for a further extension.
She further questions whether parliament will get the amendment finalised by the 28 February deadline it proposed to court.
Revell suggests that parliament rely on the importance of the matter and the dire consequences if its application for the further extension is refused.
She argues that the consequences for the country of a parliament that undermines the Constitutional Court by failing to implement its order are even worse.
Read: Multiparty democracy is in trouble in South Africa
What lies behind the dragging of feet?
Political commentators have pointed out that the proposed amendment will decrease the number of seats available for representatives of political parties in parliament and provincial legislators.
This will dilute the power of these parties.
There is therefore little incentive for them to finalise the amendment and this is probably the reason for the slow progress.
The continued delay may in fact make it impossible for the IEC to incorporate the new rules in its preparations for the 2024 elections. The IEC told the court in December that it has already started with preparations based on the amendments currently before parliament.
Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said in an affidavit that if the IEC has to wait any longer to start preparing, it will not be able to deliver a free and fair election.
That will once again deprive Revell of the opportunity to represent her people in parliament.