The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has adopted recommendations by former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke that this year’s local government elections be postponed from October this year to February next year, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini told a news conference that the commission had unanimously accepted the findings of the Moseneke report, noting that community immunity through mass vaccination for the coronavirus must be considered as a desirable step. 

Mashinini said the IEC would immediately approach a court of competent jurisdiction to seek an order to defer the elections.

Another matter of urgency will be an adjustment of the IEC’s process in accordance with its current legal functions and the financial implications.

These include the deferral of registration weekends scheduled for 31 July and 1 August to enable IEC members, volunteers and political agents to first be vaccinated. Mashinini said this decision was grounded on the expert advice of epidemiologists. 

Mashinini added that the IEC would begin a series of discussions with stakeholders, including political parties, parliament and the South African Local Government Association. 

The electoral body will also consult Cooperative Government Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as chair of the government’s elections committee and the treasury on the financial implications of a postponement.

On Tuesday, Moseneke, who chaired an inquiry into whether it would be possible to hold a free and fair election this October as scheduled, released a report saying the Covid-19 pandemic meant the answer was no.

“Having considered all the submissions, applicable law, research on electoral practice during the Covid-19 pandemic and the related science, we conclude that it is not reasonably possible or likely that the [elections] scheduled for the month of October 2021 will be held in a free and fair manner as required by the peremptory provisions of the Constitution and related legislation,” he said.

Moseneke said his reasons were grounded on scientific evidence and recent Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

He said the scheduled voter registration timetable was set for six days after the current level four lockdown regulations expire, which were likely to be extended. He added that most of the processes required in accordance with the draft voter registration timetable would not be reasonable. Voters who were unable to register electronically would be disadvantaged.

He said political parties and independent candidates would also be affected by Covid-19 restrictions, which prohibited any political activities, including campaigning.