South Africa: Code of conduct

Updated July 2016

The Electoral Act (1998, Schedule 2; "Code 1998") contains an "Electoral Code of Conduct" aimed at promoting "conditions that are conducive to free and fair elections" and that create a climate of tolerance, free campaigning and open public debate (Code 1998, 1; See also Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act 2000, Schedule 2). Party candidate lists submitted must be accompanied by undertaking binding the party, its agents and its candidates to adhere to the provisions of the Code and failure to do so creates the risk of candidates being disqualified (Electoral Act 1998, 27(2)(a), 30).

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is empowered to add provisions to the Code (Electoral Act 1998, 100; Code 1998, 10).

Promotion of the Code, compliance, commitment and cooperation

Registered parties and candidates bound by the Code are expected to promote the goal of the Code, publicise the Code during campaigning and to promote and support efforts to educate voters (Code 1998, 2). All registered parties and candidates are expected to comply with this Code, to instruct candidates, office bearers and agents and members and supporters to comply with it, and with electoral laws, and to take steps to ensure that all so instructed comply with it (Code 1998, 3).

Registered parties and candidates must state publicly that all have the right to (Code 1998, 9(1)(a)):

  • Freedom of expression of political beliefs and opinions.
  • Challenge and debate others' political beliefs and opinions.
  • Publish and distribute election and campaign materials.
  • Erect banners, billboards, placards and posters.
  • Canvass for support.
  • Recruit members.
  • Hold public meetings.
  • Travel to and attend public meetings.

Registered parties and candidates must publicly condemn any action that may undermine the free and fair conduct of elections (Code 1998, 9(1)(b)). Parties and candidates must accept the results of an election or challenge those results in court (Code 1998, 4(2)).

Party and candidates must liaise with each other to ensure that they do not hold public events at the same time and place as each other (Code 1998, 5).

Prohibited conduct

Registered parties and candidates are not permitted to (Code 1998, 9(1)):

  • Speak or act in a way that incites violence or intimidation.
  • Publish false or defamatory allegations.
  • Plagiarise the emblems of other registered parties.
  • Discriminate on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, class or religion.

No person is permitted to (Code 1998, 9(2)):

  • Use inducements or rewards to get a person to join or not to join a party, or to attend or not to attend a public event, or to vote or not to vote, or to vote or not to vote in any particular way or to refuse a nomination as a candidate or to withdraw as a candidate.
  • Carry weapons at a public political event.
  • Prevent reasonable access to voters for campaigning, recruitment or fundraising purposes.
  • Remove, deface or destroy election materials.
  • Abuse a position of power, privilege or influence, including parental, patriarchal, traditional or employment authority to influence the conduct or outcome of an election.

Role of women

Registered parties and candidates must respect the right of women to communicate freely with parties and candidates, facilitate the full and equal participation of women in political activities, ensure the free access of women to all public political events and take all reasonable steps to ensure that women are free to engage in any political activities (Code 1998, 6).

Role of the IEC

In respect of the IEC, registered parties and candidates are expected to (Code 1998, 7):

  • Acknowledge the authority of the IEC in conducting elections.
  • Assure voters of the impartiality of the IEC.
  • Execute lawful instructions of the IEC, the chief electoral officer and IEC agents.
  • Maintain effective lines of communication with the IEC and other parties participating in the election.
  • Facilitate access to public events by IEC officials.
  • Co-operate with IEC investigations.
  • Ensure that IEC officials are safe and not subjected to insults, hazards or threats.
  • Ensure that party or candidate representatives attend party liaison committee meetings and other IEC forums.

Role of media

All registered parties and candidates should respect the role of the media in elections, not prevent access by media to public events and ensure that journalists are not harassed, intimidated, subject to hazard, threat or physical assault (Code 1998, 8).

Enforcement of the Code

Contravention of the Code by those bound by it is an offence and a person convicted is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for up to 10 years (Electoral Act 1998, 94, 97, 98). The chief electoral officer may institute proceedings in court against offenders to enforce compliance and the courts have a range of sanctions at their disposal, in addition to those already mentioned, and may (Electoral Act 1998, 95):

  • Impose a formal warning.
  • Impose a fine up to R200 000.
  • Impose the forfeiture of candidate deposits.
  • Prohibit or limit the use any public media, the holding of public events, entering any voting district to campaign, the display billboards, placards or posters, the publication or distribution of campaign literature or the receiving funds from the State or foreign sources.
  • Exclude access to voting stations.
  • Reduce the number of votes cast in favour of a person or party.
  • Disqualify candidates.
  • Cancel the registration of a party.

In addition to these provisions, the IEC is also empowered to attempt conciliation as a method of resolving disputes and complaints about Code infringements (Electoral Act 73 of 1998, 103A).


ELECTORAL ACT 73 OF 1998, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 26 Feb 2010).

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: MUNICIPAL ELECTORAL ACT No 27 of 2000, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 16 Jul 2016).