A Constitutional Court ruling due soon could delay local government elections due in August in which the ruling party faces a stern test over concerns about weak economic growth.
Hearings in the case ended on Monday, and the court may issue a ruling in the coming days.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has challenged a ruling by the Electoral Court that said the polling body must obtain and verify the addresses of all registered voters and remove anyone whose address is not listed from the voter rolls.
The IEC wants the Constitutional Court, the top judicial body in the country, to say the polls can go ahead using the existing voter rolls, which include about 12 million voters with no address, some of whom live in informal settlements and rural areas.
“The notion of 12 million registered voters being deprived of their right to vote is unthinkable,” the IEC said in a court document presented during the court hearing this week.
The commission has said that should the constitutional court order that all voters’ addresses be verified, the task would be completed by November 2019.
Analysts say this could mean the elections would be delayed.
“Anything that implies that the election can’t go ahead would precipitate a constitutional crisis,” said Daryl Glaser, a lecturer and head of political studies at Johannesburg’s Wits University.
Some opposition parties and independent candidates say addresses have to be verified to ensure that the vote is not compromised. They argue that some electors without addresses could travel to municipalities where they do not reside to vote for candidates there.
This year’s local elections pose a major risk for President Jacob Zuma’s dominant ruling African National Congress, with the party facing a strong challenge from opponents.
Any defeats in the big cities for the ANC, which counts on rural areas for the bulk of its support, could damage the party, which has been in power since the end of white-minority rule in 1994 as it gears up for a presidential election in 2019.