By-Elections Explained

In this blog, we take you through the basics of by-elections. You can use this blog as a useful guide in understanding the importance of by-elections in your community, and more broadly as an important element in the value chain of our democratic system.

What are by-elections?

A by-election is an election that takes place in a municipal ward between general municipal elections which are held every five years. At local government level, the electorate (which is you - the voter) can vote directly for the Councillor they want to represent their ward. This means that you do not vote for the political party. Instead, you vote for the individual representative from a political party or an independent candidate. By-elections take place within 90 days after a municipal ward council seat becomes vacant. By-elections are held for the following reasons:

  • The municipal council is dissolved

  • A ward vacancy occurs due to death, resignation and expulsion of a ward councilor from a political party or municipal council

  • The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) fails to declare the results of an election of a municipal council or ward within a specified period

  • A court sets aside the election of a council or a ward.

Why should you vote in by-elections?

Municipalities are responsible for a wide range of services to citizens – including water, electricity, roads, health care, refuse and waste removal amongst others. Your participation allows you to choose the ward councillor who will represent your interests and those of your community in the municipality.

When do by-elections occur?

When a vacancy becomes available, the Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Local Government, after consulting with the Electoral Commission, will call and set aside a date for the by-election in a notice in the provincial Government Gazette. The by-election must take place within 90 days of the previous election, the date of the court decision, the date the council was dissolved, or the date of the ward vacancy occurring.

The IEC website, its social media platforms and gov.za will communicate upcoming by-elections. On average, approximately 150 by-elections are held each year in South Africa. They usually take place on a Wednesday, and voting stations generally remain open from 7am – 9pm. The results of the by-election will usually be published on the Electoral Commission website (www.elections.org.za) the day after the by-elections take place.

Who can vote in the by-elections?

In order to be eligible to vote you need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • You must be a South African citizen

  • You must be 18 years and older

  • You must have an Identity Document (ID), smart ID or temporary ID certificate

  • You must reside in the ward that is affected by by-elections.

How can you participate in the by-elections?

First, you must be a registered voter in the municipality. If you have already registered to vote, you do not need to register again to vote in a by-election, unless you have moved home, in which case you may need to re-register in your new voting district, or unless your address details are incomplete or absent on the voters’ roll.

In terms of the Constitutional Court ruling of 14 June 2016, the Electoral Commission is required to implement Section 16 (3) of the Electoral Act, which requires that voters’ rolls should contain the address of voters “where available”, for all by-elections following the 2016 Municipal Elections.

You can check your registration details by SMSing your identity number to 32810, visiting www.elections.org.za, or visiting your local/municipal electoral office. You can register at the municipal electoral office in your municipality weekdays during office hours during a special registration weekend at your voting station before the by-election. If you're unable to vote on voting day because of a physical disability, pregnancy, injury or time issue, then you can participate in a special voting day, as determined by the Election timetable. Special voting days usually occur the day before regular voting days, but it is preferable that you submit a special voting application 2 weeks prior.

What will candidates and political parties do?

Political parties and candidates will be campaigning for votes in the run up to the by-elections. The Electoral Act contains a Code of Conduct aimed at promoting "conditions that are conducive to free and fair elections" and that create a climate of tolerance, free political campaigning, and open public debate. As soon as the election date is proclaimed, parties, and candidates commit to adhering to the provisions of the Electoral Code of Conduct until the election results are officially announced. Failure to do so creates the risk of a party's candidates or independent candidates being disqualified.

Voting is an important aspect of democracy

South African’s democratic value chain relies on the electorate’s participation in all elections. However, in 2021 there was a voter turnout below 50% in each of the 4 wards being contested. Voter apathy can potentially weaken South Africa’s hard earned democracy, so it is vital that citizens participate in their up-coming by-elections.

When are the next by-elections?

On the 16th of March, South African in Intsika Yethu Municipality, Engcobo Municipality, Dr Pixley Ka Isaka Seme, and Thaba Chweu will make their way to cast their votes in this year’s municipal by-elections. Unlike the general national elections, where all South African citizens who are 18 years and older can vote, the by-elections take place in wards where a councillor has resigned, is suspended or is deceased.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has released the candidates that will be contesting in the by-elections in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga.

What information can you find on the IC website?

You can find notification of upcoming by-elections and the affected wards, details of the candidates contesting the elections and the results.

Source: IEC website

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