10 December 2018

South Africa: Criminals Can Vote, but Psychiatric Patients Are Still Barred


All societies impose age thresholds for activities regarded as an adult and a universal adult franchise should be just that - universal.

In a disturbing about-turn that defied the recommendations of both the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the Human Rights Commission, Parliament has passed the Electoral Amendment Bill without any amendment of two clauses in the Electoral Act that bar anyone "detained" in a psychiatric hospital or "declared to be of unsound mind or mentally disordered" from taking part in the electoral process.

As a result, about 30 000 people will be barred from voting in the 2019 general election simply because they are ill. Perhaps more importantly, we as a nation continue to exclude this group of individuals from one of the most fundamental rights we have in a democracy. How can this be, when we are supposed to have a universal franchise and our Constitution outlaws unfair discrimination?

A campaign to have these two discriminatory clauses deleted from the Act has been underway since 2010 when Parliament passed the current Electoral Amendment Act. Led by Annie Robb of the Ubuntu advocacy organisation, the campaign enjoys the support of the South African Society of Psychiatrists,...

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