South Africa: Electoral observation

Updated March 2011

Extracted from: Susan Booysen & Grant Masterson 2009 "Chapter 11: South Africa" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 390-391.

In 1994, large numbers of monitors and foreign observers were deployed during the campaign and the poll. The IEC's [Independent Electoral Commission] largest directorate organised the monitoring, recruitment and training of about 10 000 temporary staff for this purpose. Recruitment criteria were not rigorous, and the IEC monitors were predominantly young and untrained. During the campaign period, the IEC processed 3 594 complaints, many from parties, but the majority from individuals regarding the failure of monitors to adhere to the IEC's non-partisan code of conduct for election monitors. Additionally, 5 000 foreign observers arrived close to the polling day to observe the elections in South Africa. Observer missions from several US, European and United Nations agencies were included in the count of foreign observers. In some parts of KwaZulu-Natal, European Union observers played a procedurally improper, but indispensable, role in assisting election staff to conduct the poll.

In 1999, the law made no provision for the assertive role that the monitors had played in the 1994 elections. Party agents could intervene in proceedings, but accredited observers were only permitted to watch, and were not authorised to intervene in any way in the election proceedings. In 1999, the largest team of foreign observers to observe the polling day came from the Commonwealth, whilst other observer missions (smaller in scale) came from EISA, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, the African Union, (US) National Democratic Institute, the SADC Electoral Commission, and the NGO Network for Electoral Support in Southern Africa (NGONESSA), now known as the SADC Electoral Support Network (ESN).

The 2004 elections drew the least foreign observer interest in South African elections in the post-apartheid era thus far, with a number of regular election observation agencies not in attendance, most notably the EU, which publicly stated that their faith in the IEC and the South African electoral institutions even prior to the elections was such that they were satisfied that the electorate's will would be heard.

South Africa's Election 2009 saw a continuation of the trend of modest international observation interest in the elections. The main national observation effort was undertaken by the South African Civil Society Election Coalition (SACSEC). A number of smaller bodies such as the Election Monitoring Network deployed a small number of observers. The main international observer missions were from the African Alliance for Peace (AFAP), the African Union (AU), the Association of African Electoral Authorities (AAEA), Commonwealth, EISA, Electoral Commissioners' Forum of the SADC, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the Senegal People Development Institute (See Election Observer Missions to the 2009 elections for a list of observers and links to their reports).


The IEC has issued regulations governing the accreditation of observers that include a Code of Conduct for Accredited Observers (Regulations on the Accreditation of Observers, 1999, Schedule B). In terms of the Regulations (Appendix 2) the accreditation of an observer is valid for a year, but is conditional on the observance of the code of conduct.


REGULATIONS ON THE ACCREDITATION OF OBSERVERS, 1999, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 30 Mar 2011).