Voters' Roll Non-Existent in Lesotho [document]

Voters’ rolls are a perennial problem in Africa, the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation has heard on Wednesday. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) were briefing the Committee on elections in the Southern African Development Community (SACD) region, and particularly on the recent Lesotho elections outcome.

Dirco’s Director-General (DG), Mr Ambassador Jerry Matjila, informed the Committee that updating a voters’ roll was costly and that many African countries ignored this aspect of electoral preparation.

Committee Member Mr Steven Mokgalapa said the issues highlighted as challenges in Lesotho, including the voters’ roll, were common throughout the region. He asked what mechanisms South Africa was putting in place to ensure some of the challenges were being addressed.

“These are all issues that are decided through constitutional means in respective countries. What could be done to address the issue of media bias and the voters’ roll, for example,” Mr Mokgalapa said. “As we try to democratise the region, the SADC has to ensure that it interferes (in individual countries as a regional body) so that constitutional transgressions do not reoccur in each and every elections,” he said.

Mr Mokgalapa said South Africa should observe more elections in the region with a view to sharing best practice, especially because it was in a better position than other member states when it came to administering elections.

Committee Member Ms Hlengiwe Maxon commented that Africa needs positive reports like the one delivered, but that some distance is still to be covered. “Something should be done about resources for entrant parties to the elections as they are disadvantaged. The issue of the voters’ roll in Lesotho was critical and needed to be attended to, but the continent is getting there,” Ms Maxon said.

The Committee was informed that the results of the Lesotho election were inconclusive. Former Prime Minister Mr Tom Thabane, who was the outright winner of the popular vote, lost the election once the proportional vote was added to the results.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Mr Siphosezwe Masango, congratulated South Africa on its assistance to Lesotho and the region by providing both capital and personnel resources. “Democratisation of the region is happening because South Afric is involved,” he said. He also wanted to know if SADC is considering professionalising Lesotho’s army.

He also sought clarity on what SADC thought of the Lesotho army general who had gone absent without leave and who had refused an ambassadorial posting to Uganda and the possibility of him returning to influence the Lesotho forces again.

Committee Member Mr Moloko Maila congratulated the SADC. “These successes project SADC as a champion. SADC was able to convince even Renamo [in Mocambique] to lay down arms and participate in the elections. This is an achievement. The fact that Lesotho was able to resolve issues through the ballot should be applauded,” Mr Maila said. He said he hoped this could extend to neighbouring Swaziland.

Committee Member Mr Albert Mncwango concurred with other members and said the report was indeed encouraging. He sought clarity on post-election engagements in Lesotho and whether there were plans to address the issue of those wanting to go back to the bush after losing the election.

“Was there a follow-up on issues that precipitated the instability in Lesotho, particularly the role of the armed forces? It looked as though this was not resolved, but shelved pending the outcome of the election. This has to be resolved,” he said.

Mr Mncwango was informed that Lesotho and not SADC would deal with the issue of the missing general. Coalition politics, the media, constitutional reforms and the voters’ roll had been all highlighted as challenges that needed to be attended to.