Thousands of convicted prisoners are expected to join more than 27 million South Africans at the voting booth when the country holds its much-anticipated elections later this year.
This follows a successful drive by the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) this week to register eligible inmates on the voters roll, which has for the first time surpassed the 27 million registered voters mark.
While the number of prisoners who have registered to vote is yet to be confirmed, the IEC is hoping that at least 100,000 prisoners will vote this year, up from a total of 15,000 inmates who voted in the 2019 elections.
There are just over 157,000 inmates in South African correctional facilities.
South African inmates were first allowed to vote after a 1999 landmark court case which afforded them the right to take part in the democratic process.
In many countries across the world prisoners are not afforded the right to cast a vote.
Despite the country commanding one of the highest crime rates in the world, its Constitution allows all citizens the right to vote, including convicted criminals and South Africans living abroad.
Last weekend, thousands of South Africans living abroad were allowed to register at the country’s foreign missions to cast their votes at a date still to be declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Electoral staff and prison officials this week visited the country’s 240 correctional centres to register inmates as voters ahead of the upcoming registration weekend.
Wearing their orange prison uniforms, many lined up in a designated hall area at the all-male Zonderwater Correctional Centre in the capital Pretoria on Thursday to either register to vote for the first time or to update their details.
Some prisoners’ voter details were registered while they were still free and had to be updated to reflect that they would be voting from inside prison.
Prison warders kept close watch as the inmates awaited their turn in the queue before they were assisted by electoral officials using digital tablets to register them.
Khathutshelo Mashau, an inmate, said prisoners also have an interest in who gets to govern the country.
“Whoever is going to be in charge afterwards, like your minister of correctional services and justice, he needs to change quite a few things.
“The way our courts are operating sometimes, it does frustrate us. If you are writing an appeal it takes so long. That’s one thing that us, as offenders, we are worried about,” he said.
South Africa will this year hold one of its most highly contested polls since the end of apartheid and white minority rule, with the governing African National Congress facing one of its toughest elections yet.
Some polls indicate that the party may dip below the 50% electoral support for the first time since coming into power in 1994.