Woman wants to help SA’ers draw crosses abroad

Henry

Hayley Reichert is currently fighting a desperate battle against time to help as many South Africans abroad as possible register in time so that they can vote in their country of birth’s upcoming national election.

Reichert, a former Durbanite who currently lives in London, has since the beginning of the year regularly raised the alarm about the small amount of diaspora that has so far been able to register to vote.

“The majority of our estimated two million South Africans who live, work or study abroad still have close and strong ties to our homeland. This connection is mainly through our family and friends, but many of us also have real estate and business investments in South Africa,” says Reichert.

She believes it is a myth that South Africans who leave the country also finally shake off the dust of the country and its people.

Reichert, who has previously been involved in various projects to assist South Africans abroad, spoke sharply about the challenges expats face just to be able to register to vote.

Just too many problems

First there was the two-month delay before South Africans abroad could use a special online registration system to register. While the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) maintains most of the system’s technical problems have been ironed out, it continues to receive mixed feedback from users. Users especially experience frustrations because the system does not want to accept or upload their documents and photos before the system cuts out or gives error messages. The process often takes an hour or more before users throw in the towel.

Meanwhile, many South Africans abroad are still waiting for the necessary documentation to be able to register. Some are also unsure about their citizenship, as there is still a court battle raging over the retention of South African citizenship once an expat gets citizenship from another country. South Africans are often not aware that they have to apply specially to retain citizenship of their home country.

“Many South Africans abroad have also said they simply cannot afford to take so much time off work and travel considerable distances to their nearest foreign registration and polling stations to vote in person. That’s why they just don’t see the point of registering in the first place,” explains Reichert.

South Africans abroad can currently only vote at one of the 120 foreign registration locations, after several locations abroad have been closed in recent years.

“South Africans who work on yachts in the Cayman Islands, for example, have to fly all the way to Jamaica or New York to vote there.”

In the meantime, Reichert, who has lived in England for 16 years, works tirelessly through Operation Watershed to help register South Africans abroad. She shares videos explaining how to use the online registration platform and how to solve common problems on her social media platforms. She regularly liaises with the IEC about problems with the online platform and asks South Africans to sign petitions to make more consulates, embassies and high commissions available where they can register to vote in person.

In addition, some South Africans abroad say they have too little time to register. Reichert suspects the election date will be during pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Union address is announced. The updating of the voter roll closes after proclamation of the date. This means that only two months have been given for two million people abroad to register for this election.

Crave for change

“I see again and again how deep the golden thread of ubuntu and national pride really runs through our veins abroad.

“Yes, we may show anger and frustration over the political and socio-economic disasters, just like those of you on home soil, but it is certainly not for lack of caring.

“With the privilege of experiencing life in another country, we have seen the possibilities and opportunities that exist in other countries and we also want this for our country of birth.”

She believes that many South Africans abroad have an intense longing to see South Africa become the united and prosperous rainbow nation that it can be.

“We understand this will not happen overnight. However, this means we each have to roll up our sleeves and run out onto the playing field to work together as a team, with the common dream of scoring the winning goal at the ballot box.”

Hayley says, like many other South Africans abroad, the country and its people are firmly at the forefront of her heart and mind.

“We each want to contribute to bring tangible and sustainable political change to see much-needed socio-economic change in our beautiful country.

“I appeal to every South African at home and abroad to join me on the field of change by voting this year.”