South Africans cast their ballots at a polling station in Cape Town's Khayelitsha township, April 22, 2009. South Africans voted on Wednesday in an election expected to preserve the dominance of the African National Congress despite the strongest opposition challenge since apartheid ended 15 years ago. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (SOUTH AFRICA POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Cape Town - Thousands of expatriates will be the first to cast their votes in this year’s election when the polls open in some parts of the world on Tuesday night – launching a multimillion-rand operation that will end with more than 100 flights ferrying ballot papers to Pretoria from 116 cities.

There are 26 000 registered voters abroad.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has budgeted some R2 million to courier all the ballot papers back to South Africa.

The first voting station will open at 9pm on Tuesday night, South African time, at the SA High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand where 406 voters are registered, while the last station in Los Angeles, US, with 336 voters, will close at 6am, South African time, on Thursday.

It took 108 flights to send ballot papers, boxes, pens, seals and other material to the South African missions across six continents.

“The same flights will probably be needed to send back the ballot papers. The ballot boxes will be sealed and tracked until they reach Election House in Centurion,” IEC deputy chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said.

Embassy staff are set to act as election officials.

The SA High Commission in Trafalgar Square, London will be the busiest with 9 863 South Africans eligible to vote, while election staff in Guinea Bissau will be able to breathe easy after the lone registered voter there casts his ballot.

Both the DA and the ANC have travelled to the UK to campaign for votes.

The other biggest voting stations are Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates with 1 539 voters, Canberra, Australia (1 243), Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (773), The Hague, in the Netherlands (667), New York, USA (604), Doha, Qatar (557), Abu Dhabi, UAE (540), Dublin, Ireland (466) and Khartoum, Sudan (458) .

Mamabolo said the voters in Kinshasa included SANDF soldiers involved with peacekeeping in the country.

For Vuyo Tame, who has been living in Berkshire, west of London, since 2003, it will be the first time he votes as an expat.

Tame, from Maclear in the Eastern Cape, works as a doctor.

He was looking forward to casting his vote for the first time in more than 10 years, saying that previously, information for expats had not been as readily available.

“We will only see when we get there if everything has been arranged for us (at the embassy).”

Tame said it was important for expats to contribute to the improvement of South Africa and one of the ways to do that was by casting their ballots.

“I grew up in a time that was difficult in South Africa. After democracy, I saw a lot of things change in the country,” he said, adding, however, that more needed to be done.

All the voting stations abroad, except for the one station in Helsinki, Finland, will open at 7am and close at 9pm.

In Finland, voting will close at lunchtime as celebrations for the spring festival there, Walpurgis Night, take place in a nearby square.

IEC deputy chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said they had called up all the 29 voters registered there to visit the embassy earlier to vote.

Mamabolo said a special courier had been appointed to collect ballot papers on the evening after the stations were closed.

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Cape Times