Sy is The Man Behind The Preparations for SA’s National Elections

By Jessie Taylor

South Africa is approaching its seventh general election, with the preparations under way by the Electoral Commission. At the helm of this organisation is the Sy Mamabolo, the Chief Electoral Officer. The Electoral Commission is an independent constitutional body that manages free and fair elections of legislative bodies and institutions through the participation of citizens, political parties, and civil society in deepening electoral democracy.

Sy Mamabolo has guided the organisation since his appointment in October 2017, with a wealth of experience gained over two decades of electoral administration. He is a veteran of eight elections since the advent of democracy in our country.

Decades In Electoral Administration

Sy previously served as Deputy Chief Electoral Officer of Electoral Operations for five years, during which he oversaw operations for the 2014 national and provincial elections and the 2016 municipal elections. This position entails the strategic leadership of the entire electoral programme. He spearheaded the legislative amendments in Parliament for both the last general elections. Before that, he was the Provincial Electoral Officer for Gauteng and has extensive experience in research and public administration, having completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and a Master’s Degree in Management, both from the University of the Witwatersrand. His interest in public life was influenced by his early involvement in student politics and the struggles of young people in the 1980s.

He has served in leadership positions in both the youth and student movement, culminating with election onto the Student Representative Council of the University of the Witwatersrand in 1993. As part of his professional responsibilities, Sy has travelled extensively on the continent to promote good governance and the conduct of credible elections and has visited, among others, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Ghana, Liberia, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, and Zimbabwe.

New Ballot Paper Rollout

Sy sees the 2024 general election is a landmark event as it marks 30 years of electoral democracy. “The Commission reiterates its willingness and ability to deliver this mammoth national project. All staff of the Commission stand ready to fulfil their tasks and thus ensure that the Commission meets its constitutional duties pertaining to the 2024 general elections,” he said.

He said this year’s election introduced novel experiences for the voters, such as a third ballot in the national and provincial elections and the participation of independent candidates for the very first time. The 27.79 million registered voters will receive three ballot papers to elect candidates to represent them in the National Assembly and Provincial Legislatures. The use of the three ballots follows the amendment of the Electoral Act, which was signed into law in April 2023. This amendment revised the electoral system to allow independent candidates to contest in the regional tier of the National Assembly and the Provincial Legislatures.

Among Sy’s Responsibilities Is Overseeing This Change and The Rollout of Three Ballot Papers This Year:

  • The national ballot: This ballot will consist of a list of political parties vying for seats for 200 seats in the National Assembly. This ballot will be used to vote for political parties. There are currently 52 parties who will be on this ballot, and the configuration will be a dual column.
  • The regional or province-to-national ballots: It will have political parties and independent candidates contesting for the seats reserved for each province in the National Assembly. Voters will use this ballot to elect a political party or an independent candidate to represent them in the National Assembly. The number of contestants ranges from 30 to 44 on regional ballots. The configuration of this ballot is a single column.
  • The provincial ballots: This ballot is unique to each province and includes parties and independent candidates competing for seats in each respective provincial legislature. This ballot will allow voters to choose either a political party or an independent candidate to represent them in provincial legislatures. The number of contestants range from 24 to 45 on the provincial legislature ballots.

“The Commission urges voters to carefully review and mark each of these three ballot papers before depositing them into the ballot box. Our appeal to voters is to remember that they can only put one mark on each ballot, more than one mark will result in a spoiled vote and not counted,”-Sy Mamabolo.

Who’s Contesting This Year’s Election?

The Commission has issued certificates to the 14 889 candidates who will contest 887 seats in the forthcoming elections. Fifteen political parties are contesting all tiers of the elections which means the compensatory seats in the National Assembly, the nine province-to-national elections as well as the nine provincial legislatures. A total of 31 political parties will contest the national elections for the first time.

An analysis of the list of candidates reflects that at 58% are male, with female candidates at 42%. Candidates in the age category 40-49 are the majority at 4 361, followed by the 3 708 in the 50-59 age category and the 3 406 in the 30-39 age group. Candidates who are over 60 stand at 1 924 and those between the ages of 18-29 are 1 493.

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