Cellphone image showing chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa Pansy Tlakula casting her special vote at Orange Grove Primary School in Johannesburg on Monday, 5 May 2014.

Johannesburg - On Monday morning the nation began to vote, with special voters casting their ballot. It is expected that 300 000 special voters will vote as Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials make house calls.

One of the first to cast her vote was IEC head Pansy Tlakula, who was at the Orange Grove Primary School.

Tlakula is one of 58 000 citizens approved by Gauteng to cast special votes before election day, 36 000 of whom are elderly and infirm citizens requiring a special door-to-door service, according to Gauteng electoral officer Masego Sheburi.

Tlakula is one of the other portion of special voters, those who will be too busy on Wednesday to cast a ballot.

But with the special vote comes a warning. IEC spokeswoman Kate Bapela has asked people who applied for special votes to be home when the officials visit or they will have to queue like everyone else on Wednesday.

“If you said we should visit you at 10am, make sure you are home… and not at a shopping mall because that would mean you are not a special voter.”

Bapela said special voters fell into different categories, including the physically infirm, such as old people who are battling to walk; ill people; disabled people; and pregnant women. The number of special voters is considerably fewer than the about 700 000 who registered for the last elections.

The opening of special voting marked the end of a hectic weekend of last-ditch electioneering by all political parties.

Broadcast regulations stipulate that from today the airwaves will be free from party-political adverts, though election posters will remain on lamp posts. There are fewer than 48 hours left to touch base with would-be voters before the ban on electioneering rallies and political meetings kicks in at midnight tomorrow, according to electoral rules.

As South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, the election manifestos mostly focus on jobs, infrastructure and the fight against corruption.

Party leaders, senior officials and thousands of volunteers have in recent weeks knocked on doors, attended rallies and engaged professionals, students and just about anyone else of voting age.

But has it been enough?

A voter turnout in the low 70 percentages is expected.

Professor Susan Booysen of the Wits University Graduate School of Public and Development Management said while “all the building blocks are there, they don’t build up to an election that is exciting”.

There were too many ambiguities and ethical and leadership questions, she said.

Ebrahim Fakir of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa said much electioneering was “negative campaigning”, with not enough focus on issues, both from the side of the governing ANC and the opposition DA.

“Political parties have done what they could, given their resources. I don’t get the sense the campaigns were as strenuous or as energetic or even as widespread as previously,” said Fakir.

Voter turnout would have implications for all political parties: If the malaise in the ANC kept its voters away, he argued, this was unlikely for the DA, whose voters had an interest in voting.

Centre for the Study of Democracy director Steven Friedman said though many people had attended rallies, work needed to be done regarding the organisation on the ground.

“The two major parties (the ANC and DA) tend to pull out all the stops and they know what to do… The smaller parties lose the plot.”

He cautioned against overplaying the demise of smaller parties as many, like the ACDP, United Democratic Movement and Freedom Front Plus had found their niche.

In the past two elections the trend has shown that, despite increasing voter registration levels, proportionately fewer voters have gone out to make their mark.

In 1999, about 18 million of the 25.4 million voting-aged population were registered, and 16.2 million voted.

In 2009, 17.9 million cast their ballots, although 23.1 million of the 31.6 million voting-age population were registered, according to IEC statistics.

The IEC this year registered a record 25 362 173 voters from a population of 52 million, but about 9 million voting-aged South Africans didn’t get themselves onto the voters roll.

The Star