As millions of South Africans freely cast their votes on Wednesday, reports of problems emerged, including the shooting of an electoral officer in the Free State, and the arrest of a presiding officer in KwaZulu-Natal.

The country's chief electoral officer, Pansy Talkula, said the electoral officer was shot while opening a voting station in Qwa-Qwa. Police were investigating, she said.

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    "According to the information we have, someone came up to the electoral officer and demanded money. When the electoral officer tried to run away the robber fired five shots but only one shot hit the presiding officer in the neck. The person is in hospital and the voting station is now open," said Tlakula.

    Marked

    She reported 98 percent of the voting stations opening on time but said an official was arrested in Ulundi, for allegedly possessing marked ballot papers.

    KZN police spokesperson Dir Phindile Radebe said that in Ulundi at about 7.30am, party agents reported a suspect with completed ballot papers and in the process of putting them into ballot boxes.

    "These irregularities were reported to police, and we have arrested a female suspect. We are investigating charges in terms of the Electoral Act and fraud," she said.

    She said polling boxes containing ballot papes had been transported from Ekhombe to Nkandla on Tuesday night.

    "On arrival at Nkandla at 8pm, two ballot boxes were found to be missing and some of those missing papers were found this morning in the suspect's possession," she said.

    She said a case of theft had been opened for the remainder of the missing papers, and police were investigating.

    Provincial MEC for Transport, Community Safety and Liaison, Bheki Cele, told reporters in Ulundi that a total of 200 ballot papers all marked in the favour of the IFP had been found in these ballot boxes before the polling station was opened.

    A suspect is expected to appear in Mahlabathini Magistrate's Court on Friday.

    IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said after casting his vote near Ulundi that the discovery of the marked ballots suggested the ANC was up to tricks. Another IFP official said it was strange that the ANC knew exactly where to find these boxes.

    Buthelezi said he had asked police to investigate KZN Premier S'bu Ndebele for having ballot papers in his Pietermaritzburg office.

    The ANC has denied this and Ndebele has been urged to sue Buthelezi.

    National organiser of the IFP, Albert Mncwango, said the IFP condemned any fraudulent electoral activity. He said it proved the IFP was right all along when it voiced numerous concerns about serious gaps in the security system of the IEC.

    "Whether the votes were cast in favour of the IFP, or the KISS party for that matter, is irrelevant and we condemn this," he said.

    He said the IFP had been particularly concerned with the number of irregularities in the voting process.

    "There is this issue in Ulundi, then the fact that some ballot boxes with ballot papers went missing in Nkandla on Tuesday evening, and another incident this morning in eMaweleni in Umlazi where seven ballot boxes carrying special votes were tampered with. This is a serious security problem that the IEC faces," he said.

    Cope said this morning it was shocked at the arrest of a presiding officer in Ulundi.

    "It is a lesson for the IEC to be careful with the selection of presiding officers based on a party political affiliation. We said it from the word go that with the politicisation of the IEC deployment, we create problems similar to the problems in Zimbabwe where the electoral commission is dominated by the party activists.

    Lesson

    "This must therefore send a lesson, mainly to Sadtu and Natu members, not to use their responsibilities as presiding officers to advance victory of their preferred parties by hook or by crook."

    The party said all Cope party agents needed to be vigilant (to ensure) that every Cope vote was counted.

    "Maybe the IEC will have to reconsider deploying teacher union activists as IEC officials."

    Meanwhile, ANC president Jacob Zuma was on Wednesday to visit ANC supporters in a Johannesburg hospital after they were injured in a bus accident while travelling to the party's Siyanqoba rally at Coca- Cola Park on Sunday.

    The IEC was also asked to intervene at Durban's City Hall after the presiding electoral officer at the polling station began calling in voters alphabetically. When questioned by a reporter, the presiding officer would not explain this

    method.

    About 250 people, many of whom had been waiting in Durban from early on Wednesday, began creating a fuss.

    But within 20 minutes of the IEC being contacted for comment, the officer changed the method back to first-come-first-served, to the relief of the crowd.

    Graham McIntosh, a farmer in the Estcourt area and member of the newly-formed Cope, told the Daily News that a polling station in Willow Grange, between Estcourt and Mooi River, had to be closed because of non-availability of ballot boxes and ink.

    The Daily News learnt that the polling station was shut for about two hours as electoral officers waited for the material to arrive. The station opened at about 9am.

    Cope second deputy president, Diedre Carter, accused ANC agents at KwaDabeka in Pinetown of interfering with the voting process. According to Carter, non-special voters were bused in to KwaDabeka High School by the ANC.

  • Additional reporting by Bheki Mbanjwa