Can civil society groups and non-profit organisation (NPO) throw their hats in the ring and contest the elections in 2024?

Not according to the Electoral Act which is undergoing some changes in Parliament including the inclusion of independent candidates into the proportional representative system of the provincial and national elections.

In 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 was unconstitutional as it requires that adult citizens may be elected to the National Assembly and provincial legislatures only through their membership of political parties.

Researcher at My Vote Counts Letlhogonolo Letshele said if a civil society group or registered NPO, such as the Rivonia Circle wanted to contest the elections it would have to either register as a political party or field an independent candidate.

But analysts have warned the increase in independent candidates and smaller parties results in thousands of votes in limbo due to the formula used in South Africa.

Letshele said the rise in independent candidates, community based organisations and civil society groups fielding candidates was evident in the 2021 local government elections.

“We saw a rise in communities contesting power. Independent candidates already exist at local government elections. People are tired of voting for political parties, we have seen a number of communities fielding candidates including in Makhanda in Grahamstown there quite a lot.

“We are seeing a trend where people are putting up someone to contest. This means there is an appetite for an alternative. Come 2024 there is a possibility that we might see a rise in independent candidates and this [electoral] act is coming at the right time where people are starting to favour independent candidates,” Letshele said.

The 2021 local government saw 66 municipalities in South Africa without an outright winner and the councils were declared hung.

“This might be repeated in 2024 where no party gets a majority. We will probably have a coalition government,” Letshele said.

Though Rivonia Circle’s Songezo Zibi was tipped to run for president in 2024, but Zibi poured cold water on this.

Zibi said Rivonia Circle would instead focus on deepening democratic participation, influencing policy, and leadership training.

“When you say a ‘new form’ of politics’ all people think about is the elections but people need to understand that in a democracy politics is everything you do between elections,” Zibi said.

“We are not going to contest elections but anyone who is involved in the Rivonia Circle has to resign [from politics] because we want to create a space where no one asks the next person who they voted for,” Zibi said.

Zibi also said he was of the view that independents candidates contesting elections “was not going to work”.

“The formula doesn’t work, if your constituency is a province and as a political party you win 200 000 votes you get four seats minimum and if your are an independent you get one seat, what is the point, what happens to the other 150 000 votes? They are in limbo and it is a waste of votes,” Zibi asked.

Meanwhile former Gauteng MPL and DA member Makashule Gana quoting Zibi, Gana said he believed South Africa was in need of an alternative.

“This political alternative that I am talking about must contest the elections in 2024, it has to contest, the people must reclaim their democracy because this democracy does not belong to political [parties],”he said.

Political analyst Ntsikelelo Breakfast said those leading civil society groups who believed they could contest the elections, required in-depth understanding of politics.

“They come from civil society formations for example people like Mogoeng-Mogoeng. It is one thing to be a politician and it is another thing to b a professional. It is one thing to ascend to power, it is another thing to hold onto your position,” Breakfast said.

Breakfast said while more and more NPOs were emerging and had dropped hints around contesting elections the other question was whether or not they stood a chance and will they succeed.

“There seems to be an appreciation that the ANC is going to lose the election and it is going to make room for coalition formation and they don’t want to be led by white people,” Breakfast said.