Hundreds of expats unable to vote

HUNDREDS of South African expats living across the globe will be unable to vote in next week's election. This is because of the failure by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) and the Electoral Commission (IEC) to inform South Africans living abroad about a form they had to complete to vote.

South Africa's high commissioner to Ghana, Jeanette Ndhlovu, said this had resulted in "the problem [of expats not being able to vote] everywhere".

"I've been in touch with my colleagues at other embassies and many other expats also failed to submit the VEC10 forms on time, and it will not be possible for them to vote," Ndhlovu said.

"The problem is everywhere."

The purpose of the form is to notify the IEC of a citizen's intention to vote abroad and where the person would like to vote. The deadline for filling in the VEC10 form was midnight on March 12.

According to expats living in Ghana, High Commission staff in the West African country had told them they only needed to register at the commission before February 7, and then arrive on voting day with a valid ID and passport.

They were not told about the VEC10 form that had to be submitted online. "At the time of registration, I verbally asked what else was required," expat Andy Sarson said.

"The reply was nothing else, just bring along the piece of paper and ID. I only became aware of the extra form to be completed on Friday."

Sarson, who lives in Ghana, said the High Commission had ample opportunity to send out an e-mail "advising all those registered in Ghana to follow this procedure. I feel robbed of the opportunity to vote due to the incompetence of the High Commission here in Ghana."

At least 40 South Africans in Ghana, out of nearly 130 who registered to vote, do not appear on the voters' roll as they did not fill in the VEC10 form. Ndhlovu said she would call the IEC to see whether anything could be done to address the matter.

According to the IEC, there are 26701 South Africans who are eligible to vote abroad.

In the 2009 elections, 9857 South Africans voted abroad.

London has 9863 registered voters (37% of the total eligible voters), Dubai 1539, Canberra 1243, Kinshasa 773 and The Hague 667. They are the top five voting stations based on the number of eligible voters.

Expats in other parts of the world have slammed the limited communication from Dirco.

"We have seen very little if any communication to expats in the various countries," a UK expat said.

"They have access to Rosa [Registration of South Africans Abroad] and could easily inform citizens of their right to vote abroad and the processes that had to be followed.

"I am registered on both Rosa and the mailing lists of the embassy in London and haven't received any communication on the elections."

She said the IEC had done a bit of advertising on Facebook, but it had really been organisations like the Vote Home campaign and DA-Abroad that had kept people informed.

An accountant working in Hong Kong said: "I received zero communication from the embassy. If I wasn't subscribed to e-mails from DA- Abroad, I wouldn't have known about the registration process or the need to submit the VEC10 form."

Other problems to beset South African expats in terms of voting is the lack of voting stations abroad.

A petition to improve access to voting facilities for expats in countries like Australia, where large numbers of South Africans have settled in Perth, 3720km from Canberra – the only voting station in that country – was unsuccessful.

DA-Abroad said it remained concerned about certain aspects of the voting procedures for expats.

Dirco spokesman Clayson Monyela referred questions to the IEC, saying it was in charge of the election process. The IEC failed to respond to questions. - Jana Marais