Durban - Police have arrested 35 people for burning a voting station near Richards Bay during a service delivery protest on Monday night.
KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni revealed this during a parade of 1 000 policemen to be deployed around KZN. She warned the police would be “merciless” against any form of crime, especially that which might disrupt voting.
Ngobeni said the 35 were arrested in Mandlazini for torching the community centre which was to be used as a voting station.
“A few hooligans became unruly and burnt a community hall and we are sending a message that crime does not pay and we will be merciless in dealing with such acts,” Ngobeni said.
IEC provincial electoral officer, Mawethu Mosery, said the IEC would now have to set up a temporary voting station in the area but was pleased that police had acted quickly.
The 1 000 police officers who left Durban are part of the 17 000 police officers who would be deployed in KZN. Ngobeni also announced that there were additional police officers due to arrive in the province on Tuesday from the national office.
“Together with the IEC and intelligence services we have identified voting stations that are low, medium and high risk. This will determine the numbers deployed to these areas. Deployment will only end after the election-related activities,” Ngobeni said.
Every available police officer would be deployed, but she said the day-to-day policing work would not be affected. Officers based at the head office and from special units would be used to complement staff at police stations to ensure these were not left severely understaffed.
“No activities will be happening without consultation and the guidance of our PEO (provincial electoral officer). We are closing any loopholes that were identified in previous deployments.”
National officers would be deployed to KwaMashu and Wembezi C Section, the two areas being watched the most as there are fears that violence could flare up before and after the election.
Mosery urged police officers to “be as alert after voting as we are before and during voting”. He said after the voting process people were likely to react to the results and police needed to keep a close eye.
He said police should also make sure that they secure voting material.
“Please ensure the materials of elections do not end up in wrong hands. It is my wish that what has happened in the Western Cape must not happen in KZN.”
He also urged police to ensure that no political activity such as campaigning and loudhailing takes place within the voting stations. He said the only activity that should take place within the boundaries of voting stations was voting itself.
MEC for Community Safety, Willies Mchunu, sounded confident that the province would deliver free elections. “Our elections are certainly not going to be similar to the 1994 experience, you (the police) have worked hard in the past 20 years.”
Mchunu said police in KZN were faced with unique challenges in that they also had to deal with faction fights, political violence and taxi violence, but said they had done well in curbing crimes such as cash-in-transit heists.
Meanwhile, the IEC said it had administered about half of the 60 000 special votes in KZN on Monday.
“The problem we were getting is that we could not find some people at home and those we did not find will now have to come to the voting stations,” Mosery said.