Long Queue to Freedom: expat S

Long Queue to Freedom: expat South Africans go to polls around the world

South Africans living abroad wake up to their election day one week ahead of the polls in Mzansi, with almost 10,000 registered voters expected at the High Commission in London alone

Long Queue to Freedom: expat S

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SOUTH AFRICA gets to celebrate democracy twice this week, not only with the 20th anniversary of Freedom Day but also with the first universally accessible expat vote taking place around the world this morning on 30th April 2014.

Eager voters have already cast their ballots at missions in the East such as in Canberra (Australia), in Wellington (New Zealand), and in Seoul (South Korea), where South African High Commissions have opened earlier due to differences in time zones as well as in missions in the Middle East like Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

However, the real push is expected in London, where well over 9,000 registrations point towards a healthy participation in South Africa’s democratic process even from thousands of miles away.

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The queue outside the South African High Commission on Trafalgar Square in London

Despite widespread strike action on the London Underground putting the entire capital on hold this week, South Africans were spotted queuing outside the Trafalgar Square address of the South African High Commission as early as 6am.

Doors opened at 7am, by which point security personnel had to use line dividers to ensure orderly queuing on account of the high volumes of expatriates showing up to vote, in many cases stopping by on their way to work. Before 10am, queues were past the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square.

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Just a stopover during rush over

For the first time, South Africans were allowed to register to vote while they were residing abroad and did not have to return to South Africa in order to be registered on the electoral roll, as used to be the case. This was facilitated by heavy opposition campaigning over the past legislative period, culminating in the introduction of the 2013 Electoral Amendment Act.

The opposition, led by the Democratic Alliance (DA) is hopeful to continue on a growth momentum during these elections, particularly through the expat vote. Last week, DA leader Helen Zille told THE SOUTH AFRICAN in an exclusive interview that “past experience shows that the vast majority of expat voters are DA. They tend to have a value set that agrees with the DA.”

However, the overall winner in the 2014 general elections is projected to be the ANC, giving the party the winning ticket for a quarter of a century of single-party dominance over South Africa. The newly-formed Economic Freedom Fighters under Julius Malema’s helm are also expected to get into parliament with a limited number of seats, while previous fractions are projected to lose out. It is uncertain how much exactly the expat votes will benefit either of the parties, but the new process is celebrated as another milestone in South African democracy.

Despite these strides in furthering democracy to all South Africans by facilitating the expat vote, criticism has been made that the registration process requiring several interim steps, including an online form called VEC10, might be too cumbersome, especially for older generations.

However, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) made a statement on Tuesday with regards to the expat voting, saying that the department was “satisfied that it has made the necessary information and infrastructure available for the IEC to carry out its constitutional mandate of managing the electoral process.”

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Ready. Steady. Vote.

Further criticism had, however, also been raised well ahead of the registration process that more South African expats would be likely to register for voting if they didn’t have vast distances to overcome to show up at a voting station. With the only only voting station in the UK being the High Commission on Trafalgar Square in London, many expats living outside the South-East might be discouraged from even registering in the first place, like those who live in Scotland, Cornwall or Northern Ireland.

The situation is even exacerbated in Australia and in Canada, where large South African population groups reside in Perth and in Vancouver respectively, casting them thousands of miles away from their diplomatic representations in Canberra, and in Ottawa and making the idea of participating in democracy akin to an expensive city break on the other side of the country.

A total number of over 35,000 expat registrations was recorded worldwide this year according to a DA-led initiative, which can account for enough votes for up to one MP in parliament – if they all cast their votes, that is. Exit polling will only reveal how many expats will indeed have shown up to vote in the end, however, the IEC only reported 26,000 successful registration.

However, with over 225,000 eligible South African voters in the UK alone, the number of possible seats won in parliament could be much higher if more expats were to participate in elections, demonstrating once more that South Africa’s relationship with its expatriate population might still be somewhat uneasy.

The national and provincial elections in South Africa take place next week, 8th May 2014.

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By Sertan Sanderson, 2014