The South African Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that registered voters living overseas can vote for the national assembly in the April 22elections.
South African citizens living abroad who are not yet registered will not be allowed to vote. Those who can vote must notify the chief electoral officer of their intention to vote by March 27, the court ordered.
Handing down the first of two separate judgments, Justice Kate O'Regan said the right to vote had a symbolic and democratic value and those who were registered should not be limited by unconstitutional and invalid limitations in the Electoral Act.
However, a second judgment by Justice Sandile Ngcobo found that unregistered voters overseas could not vote.
The limitations had been in effect since 2003 and the applicants had not explained why they had left the challenge so late.
This followed an application by the Freedom Front Plus on behalf of a Pretoria school teacher working in Britain, as well as representation by the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance, the A-Party, a lobby group, and an independent group of South Africans living overseas.
They had argued that it is their constitutional right to vote and that limitations in the Electoral Act which meant they did not fall into the certain categories allowed to vote, were unfair.
A judgment in favour of the teacher, Willem Richter, in the Pretoria High court in February ordered that the minister of home affairs and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) extend the right to special votes to all categories of registered voters who are away from South Africa.
The IEC had to amend the Election Regulations accordingly.