The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) cannot manage peaceful free and fair elections on its own without the involvement of religious leaders and other civil society organisations.

IEC Chairperson, Glen Mashinini, said this while addressing worshippers, among them religious leaders and  representatives of political parties, during a prayer service for peaceful, free and fair elections, organised in partnership with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), on 6 July.

Mashinini recounted how churches have partnered with the IEC through the years beginning with the very first democratic elections and added that the role of the churches cannot be understated.

He said, “Religious leaders and faith-based organisations occupy unique positions of authority, respect and trust in their communities. Critically, they are also frequently not directly politically affiliated, giving them access and credibility which other stakeholders may not enjoy. For this reason, members of religious groups have always formed a core part of ensuring the peacefulness, freeness and fairness of elections in our country, serving as trustworthy observers and highly effective conflict negotiators.”

Mashinini applauded the increase in the number of political parties and candidates contesting this year’s poll from the 2011 election, noting that it is a measure of the relative health and vibrancy of the South African democracy.

He, however, expressed concern that this increase has also brought with it an alarming increase in intra-party conflict around the candidate nomination process.

Mashinini thus called on religious leaders and other stakeholders to be vigilant in ensuring that there is adherence to the electoral code of conduct. He ended by inviting religious leaders to participate as observers in the August 3 poll.

Addressing the same gathering, Diakonia Chairperson Revd Ian Booth, urged Christains, as followers of God in the way of Jesus, to pray for those that govern, and obey their rules and laws.

“If we are to obey their laws, then we ought to pray that the process of electing them should be free and fair and above challenge. We should know that they approach their responsibilities with the right degree of humility knowing that they are accountable to God as well as to their party and the electorate,” Revd Booth said.

SACBC President, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, read the Catholic Bishops’ pastoral letter in which they called on those who aspire to leadership to ensure that municipalities are governed by principles of ethical leadership. The bishops urged all South Africans who are eligible to vote, to use their vote and not give way to apathy.

“We need mayors and councillors who have genuine concern for the economic and other hardships that our citizens are enduring. People ought to seek public office in order to serve people and promote the common good. We pray that these elections may be a step in bringing about the kind of society God desires for us,” the bishops said.