Good news! South Africans living and working abroad now have a greater chance at participating in their home country’s electoral process. The IEC has introduced an innovative online voter registration platform for South Africans residing abroad, in line with their mandate to facilitate special votes, particularly for overseas voters. In early December 2023, the IEC issued a media statement unveiling their new portal, bringing relief after an agonising two-month delay from the initially planned launch date of October 6 2023. This opportunity to register online is in addition to a dedicated in-person overseas voter registration weekend scheduled for January 26, 27, and 28 in 2024, across 120 foreign missions.
Here’s what you need to know about voting in South Africa from overseas as an expat or resident temporarily abroad.
Exciting voter updates for expats abroad
South Africans abroad now have the opportunity to register for the upcoming 2024 elections. The new registration system mandates the submission of both their ID book or smartcard and their SA passport during the application process. Overseas voters are urged to “Vote Home,” by registering to vote on the portal, while ensuring that their passports remain valid from May to August 2024, the period earmarked for the elections. The IEC has indicated that it aims for a potential election date of May 22, 2024.
Currently, overseas voting typically occurs 10-14 days before the SA election day to allow sufficient time for votes to reach and be counted in South Africa. Voters abroad receive only the national ballot, as they are unable to vote for provincial leadership, given that they reside outside of the country’s nine provinces.
Why is the right to vote so important in South Africa?
The right to vote is one of the most important constitutional rights in South Africa. The right to vote is fundamental in South Africa, especially considering our country’s history of apartheid. Before the end of apartheid in 1994, the majority of the population, particularly black South Africans, were denied the right to vote and participate in the political process. The establishment of universal suffrage was a foundational aspect of the democratic transition, ensuring that all citizens, regardless of race, have an equal voice in shaping the future of the nation. The right to vote is a symbol of equality, justice, and inclusivity in the post-apartheid South Africa, making it a vital component of our democratic principles.
In 2019, 39,000 special votes were registered, with 19,000 votes cast ‘out of country.’ The results indicated substantial support for various parties, with the DA leading at 74.45%, followed by ANC (10.83%), VF+ (4.57%), EFF (3.85%), ACDP (1.7%), and the Capitalist Party of South Africa (1.17%), while other parties received less than 1%.
2024 elections: making it easier for overseas voters
For the first time in our democratic history, South Africans who live overseas will be able to register online to place their names on the voters’ roll. Previously this could only be done by visiting a South African diplomatic mission on specific voter registration weekends, which often hindered voter participation as the time and travel costs involved were simply too prohibitive.
How to register to vote abroad
First, you will need to verify if you are already registered. You will need to check your current registration status on the IEC website. If you are still registered back in South Africa, you should update your details to reflect your nearest preferred diplomatic mission overseas.
Then, you will need to register online using the IEC’s overseas election portal.
- If you are a first time registrant, you can register to vote at your chosen South African diplomatic mission on the IEC’s portal.
- If you are already registered to vote in South Africa but now live overseas, you must update your registration to reflect your preferred diplomatic mission on the IEC’s portal.
- You can also register in person at the nearest embassy or diplomatic mission over the weekend of 26/27 or 27/28 in January 2024. You will need to check with your closest mission/embassy as to which dates are relevant for you.
- If you currently live in South Africa but will be out of the country during the election period, you can apply for a special vote abroad that will allow you to participate in the election even though you are overseas. The online application for this special vote is only made available after the election date has been set, so you will have to wait for this announcement to be made.
- To vote abroad, it is essential to inform the IEB of your intention and choose the foreign mission where you plan to cast your vote by submitting a VEC10 notification within the timeframe outlined in the election timetable, typically 15 days from the proclamation of the election date. Even if you register abroad and intend to vote at your place of registration, it is necessary to submit the VEC10. Failure to do so before the specified deadline in the election timetable will mean you will not be permitted to vote.
- After submitting a VEC10, you can easily track the status of your VEC10 notification online. Simply visit the following link: Elections.org.za – VEC-10 Application Status.
What do you need to vote abroad in the 2024 elections?
In order to register to vote abroad you will only need your South African ID (a valid, green, bar-coded ID book; temporary ID; or smart ID card). However, you will need a valid South African passport along with this in order to vote on election day. The DA Abroad has information on their Vote Home webpage with advice on what to do if your passport has expired and how to apply for new documents at overseas missions.
Once your online registration is complete, you can show up at the voting station on election day – as simple as that!
Why should you register and vote if you live overseas?
Even if you no longer live in South Africa, your citizenship still affords you the right to participate in South Africa’s democratic system. Having a say in South Africa’s future is important should you ever wish to return home at some point in the future. It is also particularly important if you have friends and family remaining in South Africa, as every vote counts and can make a difference to restoring balance in our country.
Where can you vote overseas in the 2024 South African elections?
In 2019, the IEC established 125 voting stations worldwide, strategically positioned in South African embassies, high commissions, and consulate-generals. Presently, South African citizens are only allowed to cast their votes at officially designated South African foreign missions, as specified by the Department for International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). This unfortunately has resulted in the exclusion of numerous locations with large South African expat populations. For example, in the UK, the voting option is limited to London, and in Australia, it is confined to Canberra.
There is a petition that you can sign to request that the DIRCO designate additional temporary foreign missions in locations where there are a significant number of South Africans, which you can sign by clicking here. This is just another reason why it is important that you register to vote, even if you live far from your nearest foreign mission. This is because the more people that register abroad and sign the petition, the greater the likelihood of getting a voting station closer to your city.
FinGlobal: cross-border financial specialists for South African expats
If there’s one thing we know, it’s South Africans. We provide a full suite of services tailored to South Africans to make it easier to handle your cross-border financial and tax affairs, all in one place. From tax emigration to retirement annuity withdrawals and foreign exchange, our trusted, convenient services are guaranteed to deliver results and eliminate your stress.
To see how FinGlobal can help simplify your cross-border financial moves, leave your contact details in the form below and we’ll be in touch to discuss your specific requirements.