Laughter as foreign observers go walkabout

ct IEC delegate_3373 INSLA OBSERVING: US Consul General Erica Barks-Ruggles, Russian Consular Secretary Andrey Borovik and French Consul Xavier dArgoeuves accompanied IEC project co-ordinator Geoffrey Mamputa to various polling stations. Photo: Bheki Radebe

Simone Alicea

A group of foreign observers went on a tour of voting stations in the Cape Town metro area yesterday and met Johanna Katriena Arendse – who at 109 is among the country’s oldest voter.

The purpose of the tour was to give foreign observers, who represented five countries, a chance to see the process of voting and talk to local elections officers and voters.

The tour went to polling stations in Belhar, Khayelitsha, Athlone and Pinelands.

Independent Electoral Commission project co-ordinator for free and fair elections Geoffrey Mamputa led the delegates from the US, UK, Japan, France and Russia.

They asked questions about how presiding officers voted and how voters could make their mark if they were not at their registered polling station. They wanted to know how many people had registered and how many had voted so far.

They were impressed by the rates of voting and the resourcefulness of workers at each polling station.

At the Siqalo informal settlement outside Mitchells Plain, the delegates marvelled at the innovations of some of the temporary polling stations.

“They’ve put a light in the corner for when it gets dark,” British Consul General Christopher Trott said. “Powered by generators I imagine.”

“Look at the way they’ve turned that door into a table,” US Consul General Erica Barks-Ruggles replied.

“No table, no problem.”

The tour took up most of the afternoon, which most presiding officers said was a slow period in the voting.

Despite the lull, voter turnout at the stations ranged between 30 and 50 percent.

One of the most interesting visits was to the Temple of Transformation in Khayelitsha on Nyanda Avenue.

The building used to be a shebeen, and was converted into a church. But instead of praying yesterday, the community voted.

The delegates laughed with voters as they came out of the polling station. They asked them how it felt to vote, especially celebrating 20 years of democracy.

“I am very, very happy,” voter Nomawabo Mlengetya said.

“I feel so happy no matter what happens,” her friend Benjamin Simphiwe said.

At Thornton Road Primary in Athlone the delegates met 109-year-old Arendse.

“She was born in 1905!” Trott said after he examined Arendse’s ID.

Arendse came to vote with her neighbour and took a picture with the delegates.

“I didn’t even have this many photos on my wedding day,” she said.

The tour concluded at Pinelands High School. Every officer they spoke to said that voting was going smoothly, although Pinelands did have to call in extra hands to manage a very long queue.

By the time the tour got there, though, everything had been sorted out.

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