Nation stuns IEC with massive turnout

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The queue at the Diepsloot voting station. IEC chairwoman Pansy Tlakula said the high turnout was the most difficult problem the IEC had faced on Wednesday. Picture: Chris Collingridge

Johannesburg -There was an extremely high turn-out in Wednesday’s elections, with long queues and some voters waiting four hours or more to make their crosses.

Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairwoman Pansy Tlakula said the high turn-out was the most difficult problem the IEC had faced. Because of the high numbers, results were delayed until Thursday morning after millions queued at polling stations in the fifth democratic elections.

The elections were the first since the death of Nelson Mandela and the first in which an entire generation of South Africans born after apartheid were old enough to vote.

“It should be remembered that we have the highest number of voters registered – 25.3 million,” Tlakula said.

This was 2.2 million more than registered in 2009. The IEC had increased the number of voting stations by 10 percent.

Tlakula said one of the difficulties had been people turning up to vote at stations where they were not registered, which was permitted, but which had put a strain on logistics.

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Residents of Bekkersdal queue peacefully before the opening of the voting station near an IEC tent which was burnt during violent protests on Tuesday night. Picture: Itumeleng English

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On Wednesday night, the IEC reported voting going smoothly, with all voting stations eventually opening. Police said there were no serious incidents relating to voting.

There were problems, but these seem to have moved away from the political conflicts of the past between opposing parties to opportunism by communities who used the elections to call attention to ongoing problems relating to service delivery.

There was largely tolerance for those wanting to vote, with anger directed at authorities instead.

And that South African standard of tardiness was evident, with election officials opening up late in some places, as personnel or materials were late, and voters getting out of bed late across the country.

The last voting station to open – at 2.50pm – was in Maruleng, Limpopo. There have been protests in Maruleng over a delayed shopping centre project.

There was conflict at a station in Alexandra, Joburg, apparently between the IFP and ANC.

Chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya said the Alexandra matter was the only conflict between parties he was aware of, and was resolved to allow the station to open.

Voting went ahead in areas such as Bekkersdal in Gauteng and Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, which had experienced protests and where trouble had been expected.

“My view is that the kind of issues we are dealing with indicate the extent to which our democracy has matured,” said Moepya. “We do not have no-go areas.”

On Maruleng, he said: “It’s not no-go for a political party, it’s no-go for all of them.”

 

Moepya said there were isolated incidents of violence in Maruleng in Limpopo; Gugulethu in Springs, Gauteng; Botshabelo, Free State; eNgcobo, Eastern Cape; and, Barcelona in the Western Cape.

The number of complaints made to the IEC during Wednesday’s voting was down. By 5pm, it had received 277 complaints, of which 265 had been finalised.

“This is fantastic, at this time of the game,” said Moepya, who said historically many more complaints were received.

“Just 1 percent of voting stations may have reported a complaint.”

Anyone can report a complaint, and breaches of the Electoral Act are reported to the police.

This election saw a lot of queue shopping.

Ideally, people should vote at the stations where they registered, but this isn’t required. Those who vote elsewhere in the same province get both votes, while those who vote in another province get only a national vote.

Moving around throws out some of the planning.

Tlakula said the high turn-out at some stations meant voters moved on to other stations, resulting in pressure on logistics. The IEC had enough ballot papers – there were more ballots than voters – but they had to be moved around.

The queue shopping becomes more of a problem in areas where the existing infrastructure – like schools for voting stations – is insufficient. That occurs usually in townships, where the queues build up, said Moepya.

The Unisa Election Observer Mission said 71 percent of the 70 polling stations it was monitoring across Gauteng opened on time.

At nine of 70 stations, there was only one ballot box for both national and provincial ballot papers, it said.

Unisa political analyst Professor Esther Kibuka-Sebitosi visited stations in Sunnyside, Arcadia and Atteridgeville and said the voter turn-out was impressive.

“The mood was peaceful, and lines were moving orderly. Election officials also appeared organised.”

 

In Tshwane, mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa said: “Our people have come out in their numbers from the time of the opening of the voting stations. We are optimistic of a large turn-out.”

Natasha Michael, DA MP and elections manager for Gauteng North, was also pleased with voting in the metro.

“We have been impressed with the way voters went out to vote and their patience, despite problems.

“Voting stations opened late and ballot boxes got full, but the voters continued to wait, an indication that they really wanted to exercise their democratic right to to vote.

“Others were turned away and sent to the voting stations at which they were registered, despite election rules allowing them to cast a national ballot in a general election.”

Michael said these were indications that the IEC was not ready for election day – and there had been a lack of training of election officers. “We will definitely take these issues up with the IEC,” she said.

 

There was last-minute drama in Ga-Rankuwa when a power failure plunged a voting station into darkness. With just an hour before voting stations closed, IEC officials had to use candles.

Gauteng elections manager Masego Sheburi said: “We have spoken to the City of Tshwane and Eskom to help us out with generators. For now, we will use candles and any other sources of light we can get.”

City of Tshwane spokesman Blessing Manale said three sections in the township were affected by the power failure. “A power station next to Morula Sun has a problem but there are teams attending to it.

“Voting stations have candles and back-up generators so voting is still going ahead.”

At the city hall, about 100 people were still waiting to cast their ballots near closing time. An official said those in the queue would be allowed inside to vote, but not so new arrivals.

 

The IEC chief electoral officer in KZN, Mawethu Mosery, said he was “amazed” at how many voters had stood in long queues at polling stations from the early morning.

“We did not expect a turn-out like this. For example, in some stations where 1 000 people were registered to vote, it seemed as if all went to vote at the same time.”

At the last provincial IEC briefing late on Wednesday night, Mosery said some polling stations had been unable to report their voter turn-out because of logistical problems. About 100 stations, most in eThekwini, were still open at 10pm with large queues still waiting to vote.

 

Mosery said the main problem had been the excessive use of section 24 (a) forms in the eThekwini, Msunduzi and Umhlatuze municipalities.

“These are meant to be for special circumstances. Some who were looking for shorter queues thought they could use this form and compounded the problem.” Mosery said 300 000 more forms had been printed and distributed.

Problems reported by political parties included long queues in some areas and voters being turned away because they were wearing party-political T-shirts.

 

In the Western Cape, where analysts predicted the DA would retain a majority, queues snaked around polling stations on the Cape Flats as was the case in 2009, when voting was extended at many stations.

IEC provincial head Courtney Sampson said running the first three hours of the election in the Western Cape was like “trying to ride a wild horse”.

He said the IEC was dealing with problems as they were reported and working to address them.

“But people vote willy-nilly across the province and that creates problems,” he said.

Analysts have said voter turn-out would prove a key factor in the ANC’s election fortunes, with any significant stayaway likely to reduce the 66 percent majority it won five years ago.

Investigations by the IEC into alleged irregularities in the province found no wrongdoing by officials, according to Sampson.

He said AgangSA leader Mamphela Ramphele reported that she had “busted an official with ballot papers” at a voting station in Philippi, Cape Town.

Sampson said an inquiry revealed the official had legitimately been moving material from one sub-station to another.

Early reports were that Cape Town’s northern suburbs appeared to have experienced a higher voter turn-out than in 2009, according to IEC officials and party agents.

There were complaints on Wednesday night from politicians about the preparedness of the IEC.

ANC provincial secretary Songezo Mjongile said voting stations across the city had run out of ballot papers.

“We had problems in Gugulethu and Khayelitsha where ballot papers ran out. People waited four to five hours and then they left. It is very difficult then to get those voters back to the station.”

DA provincial elections manager Jaco Londt said they had “constantly reported problems with ballot papers running out at stations and then it takes really long for more ballots to arrive”.

He said voting stations in ward 23 in Atlantis were particularly troublesome.

EFF premier candidate Nazier Paulsen expressed concern about reports of several people using the same ID book to vote.

In Cape Town, a group of foreign observers from five countries toured voting stations and were impressed by the rate of voting and the “resourcefulness” of some polling station staff.

Many of Cape Town’s “born-free” voters, born after the advent of democracy in South Africa, expressed excitement about voting for the first time, but they were clear that they expected their elected leaders to deliver after the elections. Issues that they wanted addressed included better education and investment in youth training.

 

In Samora Machel, queues at a temporary voting station in Kosovo informal settlements snaked for many metres.

At 7.40pm, Nomamfobe Ndamane, a resident of Kosovo, was still far from casting her vote. She had arrived from work just after 6pm to queue. There were more than 100 people in front of her but she was determine to stay to make her mark.

“I think it is important because we want our service delivery demands to be met. If we vote, we can move out of the informal settlements,” Ndamase said.

The elections captured the imaginations of many first-time voters, with some posting pictures of polling station queues and their inked thumbs.

Political analyst Zakhele Ndlovu said social media had had a positive impact not only on the elections but South African politics, as enthusiasm for voting and airing political views had become contagious.

“In the past we have seen a lot of young people not participating, but social media have enabled those people to express their enthusiasm.

“That is encouraging even those not interested to take an interest.”

A lot of people on Facebook were talking about their choice of political parties and their involvement in politics.

“There is now this platform for people to start expressing their views. There won’t be as big an impact on the actual results, but we will still see a slight change as more young people than before take to the polls,” Ndlovu said.

Westville voter and advertising director Gary Payn agreed the mood had been “different”.

“The public is more educated and aware. The campaigns have… reached more people through social media. As a citizen of South Africa, it’s your responsibility to vote… everyone should be forced to vote.”

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