Johannesburg - It's all systems go for the country’s sixth provincial and national elections, with more than 22.9 million registered voters expected to cast their votes at the 22924 voting stations across the country.
On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) said its voting stations were “poised and ready” to open at 7am for the historic polls, which will see 48 political parties scrambling for power, especially in the country’s economic powerhouses, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
But there were concerns that violent protests could flare up in KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Limpopo, which prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to call for free, fair and peaceful elections in his election message on Tuesday.
Fears of violent protest and possibilities of registered voters being intimidated have forced police to increase the numbers of deployed officers to more than 80000, particularly in the hot spot areas of KZN and the North West.
National Police Commissioner Kehla Sitole on Tuesday visited various parts of the North West after protests surged, in which some IEC officials were targeted.
Six people were arrested on Monday after an electoral officer’s vehicle was torched in Ganyesa, outside Vryburg. In Ikageng, outside Potchefstroom, protesters set alight a ballot box which was kept in a voting tent for special votes.
In Kraaipan, just outside Mahikeng, Tlhakajeng Primary School was allegedly burned down over the weekend by people who were boycotting the elections owing to service delivery issues.
On Tuesday in KZN, there were again incidents of protests or ballots not arriving in time in different parts of province including eThekwini, Ulundi, uMlalazi, uMsunduzi, Umvoti, Abaqulusi, Jozini, and Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Dr Langalibalele Dube municipalities.
Residents of Siyanda township, in the north of Durban, on Monday night protested, vowing to disrupt voting if their demands were not met.
The residents were again seen on Tuesday morning gathering near the township’s taxi rank in anticipation of waging a fresh protest.
On Monday night, Dumisani Makhaye Drive, which links KwaMashu to Pinetown and Newlands East and West, was blocked with burning tyres and protesters hurled stones at passing vehicles and people.
Also on Tuesday, a group of informal settlement dwellers living near the M19 in Reservoir Hills, were protesting, demanding houses.
In Zululand and King Cetshwayo district municipalities, a wild cat strike by uMhlathuze Water staff could disrupt elections. The strike started on Monday and it has seen Meerensee, eNseleni, Vulindlela and eSikhaleni going without water as it was alleged that the striking workers have sabotaged the water system by closing off valves.
Sitole said police had initially planned to send 51000 police officers to voting stations around the country. During their initial planning, they promised to deploy at least 3500 police reservists in the North West and KZN, including specialised police units.
Sitole said the army had also been deployed in the two provinces. The flare-up of violence in other provinces such as the Free State and Limpopo has forced them to increase their police deployment to 84000.
IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo on Tuesday said they were encouraged by a significant drop in community protests, and that police were quick to intervene where protests continued.
“A minimum of two police officers will be deployed to each voting station and the police will remain on high alert in high-risk areas to ensure no disruptions to the elections. Citizens are reminded that any disruptions to elections constitute a criminal offence,” Mamabolo said.
Despite the minor security glitches, Mamabolo said special votes went smoothly countrywide but they had to add additional resources for home visits in the Eastern Cape, which had the highest number of home visits, and the North West, which was behind schedule on Monday.
Mamabolo also said that the IEC would start counting special votes on Wednes from 113 of the 121 foreign missions that were cast by voters abroad on Freedom Day.
IEC deputy chairperson Janet Love said the commission would not be able to ensure credible elections without assistance from stakeholders, including voters.
“As we all know, this is a collective endeavour. We (are) really counting on citizens and we count on party agents and observers to assist us. Where there is an identification of a particular issue or a particular problem, we ask you to report it at that particular voting station but if needs be, escalate it with as much detail as possible,” Love said.
In his election message, Ramaphosa said: “We ask every candidate and party agent to help ensure a free, fair and peaceful election.”