By Dean Phara
Inmates from Bloemfontein’s Grootvlei Correctional Centre joined their colleagues from other centres across the country in registering to cast their votes in the forthcoming general elections set for May.
The exercise, conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on 22 – 23 January, is meant to ensure that eligible inmates are afforded a chance to take part in exercising their democratic right of choosing their political leaders.
Speaking to the media at Grootvlei Correctional Centre, IEC Outreach and Training Officer, Lehlohonolo Ntebelele, underscored the importance of ensuring that offenders are given a chance to be able to cast their vote in the elections.
“For elections to be democratic, they must be inclusive, periodic, competitive, and also definitive. Not only the people who are outside of prison should be given the opportunity to vote, but according to Chapter 2 of the Constitution of South Africa, even the people who are behind bars should have the right to cast their votes and let their voices be heard,” Ntebelele stated.
He also mentioned that it is IEC’s wish to register every inmate who meets the requirements to be registered as a voter.
The Correctional Services Regional Commissioner for the Free State and Northern Cape, Subashini Moodley, said that her department has been working very closely with the IEC as they have been involved in all correctional centres throughout the region to do voter registration awareness and education.
“It is important to afford a chance to all inmates who meet the requirements to vote to register for the elections. We have partnered with IEC to ensure that this chance is afforded to inmates. This process will help set the tone for fair and free elections,” said Moodley.
One of the inmates at Grootvlei Correctional Centre, Ontlotlile Leeuw (26), from Rocklands in Bloemfontein, said he was happy to be given an opportunity to exercise his democratic right.
“It’s truly a blessing and honour for me to be able to have an opportunity to cast my vote as this will be my first time to vote. I encouraged other inmates to register so that they can vote and let their voices be heard to make South Africa a better place,” Leeuw said.
Another inmate, Kgositsile Ramatsane (32), said that the importance of him registering to vote is to have his voice as a prisoner heard. He was also excited as this will also be his first time voting and believes he has made a wise decision to register to vote.
According to the IEC, an average of 160 000 offenders, including those on remand, are housed in 240 jails across the country. Since 1999, the electoral commission has been affording inmates a chance to exercise their democratic right of choosing political leaders of this country.
Inmates are registered to vote in the municipality in which they resided before being jailed.