Colleta Dewa Johannesburg - The Southern African Development Community (SADC) launched its electoral observer mission for South Africa’s May 8 elections in Pretoria on Monday, ahead of the poll which analysts expect the African National Congress to win but with a serious challenge from the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Head of the SADC Electoral Observation Mission, Joseph Malanji, encouraged all stakeholders to ensure that the elections are conducted in a peaceful, free, fair, transparent and credible manner. For many South Africans living abroad, voting went smoothly in the countries they were in on 27 April. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, there were no major logistical issues at the different voting stations. Malanji, who is Zambia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said he looked forward to an electoral process which adheres to democratic values and principles envisioned in the SADC Treaty, the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, and the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Zambia is the current chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation. Malanji said SEOM will work closely with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the elections are conducted in a free, fair and credible manner. SEOM consists of 48 personnel from 10 SADC member states namely Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The observers would be deployed to all the nine provinces of South Africa, namely, Eastern Cape; Free State; Gauteng; KwaZulu-Natal; Limpopo; Mpumalanga; Northern Cape; North West; and Western Cape. The SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said SADC will observe elections based on its three-phase approach, which includes, the pre-elections phase, the elections phase, and the post-elections phase and that the mission would be on the ground up to 16 May 2019. Dr. Tax indicated that the elections would further contribute to the enhancement of democracy in the South Africa, and in the region and called upon all electoral stakeholders to continue with the ongoing preparations in an inclusive and peaceful manner. She further encouraged South Africans, to exercise their civic right by casting their votes, and electing their leaders democratically and in a peaceful manner. South Africa becomes the first SADC member state to conduct polls this year. These will be the sixth elections to be held in the country since the first democratic elections in 1994. Namibia and Malawi will their polls later this year. The South African national and provincial elections will be held on 8 May 2019 to elect a new National Assembly and provincial legislatures in each of the nine provinces. Meanwhile, Malanji, disclosed that the team fears xenophobia and wants assurances from the South African government that they will be protected against such attacks during the mission. The 48-member team also indicated that they are not willing to enter areas that are prone to xenophobic attack. Malanji added that the mission had also sought attention from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation as well as the police to ensure adequate security for the mission. “We can’t be hindered because of this vice. Without protection we will be as vulnerable as anyone,” said Malanji. He said xenophobic attacks in South Africa were “quite worrying” not only to SEOM but generally. “No country should try to isolate itself from other countries in this era as all needed some services provided by expatriate.” Malanji also recalled that African ambassadors based in Pretoria had recently made a “demarche” – a diplomatic intervention to the South African government on this issue of xenophobia after the recent attacks against foreign nationals in the Durban area. “Some members of South African communities have taken advantage of the forthcoming elections to heighten violent service delivery protests, attacks against African foreigners and their property, and used these to threaten the peaceful conduct of the elections, he added.” The head of the mission also highlighted that although women constitute 54,5% of registered voters, they form far less than 50% of candidates on the parties’ election lists. “Political parties in general mention gender and youth equality in elected positions, but only one political party actually has a policy that it fully implements with respect to a 50-50 gender representation quota,” he said. Another concern was youth apathy since the youth of South Africa have remained apathetic, both as voters and as candidates. A total of 9.8 million eligible voters did not registered to vote, 60% of whom are youths. Malanji, however, commended the South African government for the progress the county has made since the end of apartheid rule. “South Africa has progressed remarkably well, serving in many respects as an example to the rest of the region. SADC thus duly recognises and acknowledges these tremendous strides towards the consolidation of democracy.” SADC also noted that South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission had managed to register 26,7 million voters, put in place ballot measures to accommodate a record 48 political parties, 10,000 candidates on the National Assembly party lists and 8,000 candidates on provincial assembly lists. The pre-election observation phase would continue until May 7, the day before the elections. The elections observation phase would take place on election day, May 8, and was intended to assess the electoral processes and procedures and whether the environment would be conducive for voters to exercise their civic rights. The post-election phase would start immediately after the elections and would aim to promote electoral integrity and peace and stability in the post-election period, according to the SADC election guidelines. The election observers are based in Pretoria but will travel to all nine provinces. Malanji was asked if his election observation mission was not too little and too late to get a real picture of the election. He said the official observers had been receiving inputs from many other informal observers since before they arrived in Africa. And SEOM would also focus its efforts on observing the elections in difficult areas. SEOM would issue a preliminary statement scheduled for May 10 about its observation of the elections. Tax said SEOM would leave South Africa on May 16 and issue its final report about a month after the elections. — additional reporting by Daily Maverick.