On 17 March 1992, the South African Government – then led by State President FW de Klerk – asked the white voters whether or not they supported the reforms initiated two years earlier, by means of which he planned an end to the apartheid system.

The actual question was: ‘Do you support continuation of the reform process which the State President began on 2 February 1990 and which is aimed at a new Constitution through negotiation?’ Just over 85% of the white voters cast their ballot. Of this total (of 2 804 947) nearly 69% voted unanimously in favour of continuation of the process.1

The word ‘referendum’ comes from the old Latin language, and translated it means ‘to be referred’. As the example demonstrates, a referendum is where the Government puts a political question, or proposal to the electorate (that is, the people in the country who can vote) so that a decision can be taken.

The Referendum Act 1983 provides for the holding of referendums in the Republic. When the State President declares that a referendum is to be held, he appoints an officer from the public service as Chief Referendum Officer, who is then responsible for conducting the referendum.

Contravention of the following prohibitions concerning referendums is, in each case, a criminal offence.

A. Confidentiality

  1. No person shall interfere with, or attempt to interfere with a voter when giving his vote.2

  2. No person shall attempt to obtain, at a polling station, information as to how any voter is about to vote, or has voted.3

  3. No person shall communicate (at any time) any information obtained at a polling station as to how any voter is about to vote, or has voted; or as to the number, if any, on the ballot paper handed to any voter at such polling station.4
  4. No person shall, directly or indirectly, persuade any voter to display his ballot paper so as to show how he has voted.5

  5. No person shall place, upon any ballot paper, any mark whereby a voter may be identified.6

  6. No person shall attempt to ascertain, or directly or indirectly assist in ascertaining, how any person has voted.7

  7. Any person who, in the exercise of his powers or the performance of his duties, finds out how someone has voted, shall not disclose that knowledge.8

  8. No person shall break the seal of, or open any packet sealed in terms of the Act.9

B. Disturbance and intimidation

  1. You may not obstruct or disturb any proceedings at a polling station.10

  2. You may not obstruct or interfere with any officer (or other person appointed under the Act) in the exercise of his powers or the performance of his duties.11

  3. Any person who, directly or indirectly, and whether by himself or by any other person, intimidates12 any person in order to induce or compel him to vote, or to refrain from voting at a referendum, or on account of his having voted or having refrained from voting at a referendum, commits an offence.13

  4. If you use any fraudulent means, or trickery, to compel or persuade any voter to vote, or to give (or refrain from giving) a particular vote at a referendum, or otherwise to prevent his free vote, you commit an offence.14

  5. If you give, lend or procure (or agree to give, lend or procure) or offer or promise, any money or other reward in order to induce a vote (or induce a voter to refrain from a particular vote) it is an offence.15

  6. At the same time, it is a crime to receive, or contract for any money or other reward (for you, or for any other person) on account of voting, or refraining, or agreeing to refrain from giving a particular vote.16

C. Fraudulent voting

  1. Any person who applies for a ballot paper:
    • in the name of some other person, whether living or dead;17
    • in the name of a fictitious person;18 or
    • having previously voted at the same referendum,19

    is guilty of an offence.

  2. Any person who gives a vote:
    • in the name of some other person, whether living or dead;20
    • in the name of a fictitious person;21 or
    • having previously voted at the same referendum,22

    is guilty of an offence.

  3. Any person who:
    • forges, or counterfeits any ballot paper or a mark, stamp or note on any ballot paper;23
    • fraudulently destroys any ballot paper;24
    • without authority supplies a ballot paper to anyone;25
    • places into any ballot box any paper other than a ballot paper handed to him;26
    • takes any ballot paper out of any polling station;27
    • without authority destroys, takes, opens, uses or otherwise interferes with any ballot box, voting compartment, instrument, form, document or other equipment used or intended for use at any polling station,28

    shall be guilty of an offence.

D. Publicity

  1. No person shall print, publish or post (or cause to be printed, published or posted) any matter concerning a referendum which does not bear the name and address of its printer and publisher.29

  2. The proprietor and publisher of a newspaper commits an offence if they do not cause the word ‘advertisement’ to be printed as a headline to each article or paragraph in their newspaper containing referendum matter the insertion of which is paid for, or for which any reward or compensation (or promise of reward or compensation) is made.30

  3. Every report, letter, article, placard, poster, pamphlet, circular, cartoon or other printed matter which is intended (or likely) to affect the result of a referendum, shall bear the full name and address of the person by whom it was written or produced.31
  4. It is a criminal offence to conduct (in any areas proclaimed by the Minister for a particular referendum) an opinion poll on the various news relating to the referendum or to publish the result of such an opinion poll conducted prior or subsequent to the date on which the said proclamation is issued.32

  5. On polling day, any person who, in connection with any referendum, uses or displays any flag which is or was the national flag of any country, or uses any form of loudspeaker shall be guilty of an offence.33
  1. Wikipedia – ‘South African Referendum 1992’,_1992

  2. Section 5(2). 

  3. Section 5(2). 

  4. Section 5(2). 

  5. Section 5(3). 

  6. Section 5(4). 

  7. Section 5(6). 

  8. Section 5(7). 

  9. Section 5(8). 

  10. Section 6. 

  11. Ibid

  12. This means to makes use of, or threaten to make use of any violence, force or restraint, or inflict or threaten to inflict any injury, damage, harm or loss, upon or against, or do or threaten to do anything to the disadvantage of any person. 

  13. Section 7(a). 

  14. Section 7(b). 

  15. Section 7(c). 

  16. Section 7(d). 

  17. Section 8(a). 

  18. Ibid

  19. Section 8(b). 

  20. Section 8(a). 

  21. Ibid

  22. Section 8(b). 

  23. Section 9(1)(a). 

  24. Ibid

  25. Section 9(1)(b). 

  26. Section 9(1)(c). 

  27. Section 9(1)(d). 

  28. Section 9(1)(e). 

  29. Section 10(2). 

  30. Section 10(3). 

  31. Section 10(5). 

  32. Section 11(1) read with section 11(3). 

  33. Section 12.