Election day in South Africa: how it unfolded

Voting continued past the 19:00 deadline at some stations on Wednesday as the country experienced the weird, wonderful and worrying in arguably the most contested local government elections yet.

Independent Electoral Commission chief executive officer Mosotho Moepya assured voters that they would be assisted after the 19:00 closing time if they had reached their voting station in time.

While sporadic violence and protests erupted in small pockets within certain provinces, the day’s events were also buoyed by the spirit of ubuntu in voter queues as well as the enthusiastic meetings of politicos with both the ordinary people and ballot box.

However, tragedy hit when three people were reported to have died during the elections: an African National Congress youth volunteer, aged 19, collapsed from a suspected heart attack after casting his ballot at a voting station in Struisbaai; while two voters died, apparently due to natural causes, at stations in Bulwer in KwaZulu-Natal and Strydenberg, Northern Cape.

The IEC also reported that an election official in Northern Cape was airlifted to hospital after being involved in a car accident.

Furthermore, a violent incident broke out when an ANC supporter was dragged out of a voting queue and set upon with a panga in the Pongolo municipality in KwaZulu-Natal.

Gang-related crossfire

ANC provincial spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli said that a group of voters, wearing ANC T-shirts, were waiting in the voting queue this afternoon when a man with a panga approached them, dragged one of them away and started attacking him with the weapon.

The victim was hospitalised in a stable condition. The motive for the attack was not yet known.

In Manenberg, Cape Town, a 61-year-old woman was also wounded in suspected gang-related crossfire near a polling station in the area.

Unrest also flared up in Vuwani where four men were taken in for questioning in connection with protests against a new municipal demarcation.

There was a strong army and police presence in the Limpopo area, with some voting stations not opening on time after residents dug ditches across some roads and blocked them with rocks in an attempt to stop IEC officials from accessing the area.

Many residents of the area were seen playing soccer as organisers of an elections boycott vowed to ensure that their plans to disrupt voting succeeded.

Rubber bullets fired

In the same province in Malamulele, police arrested three people for assaulting the police, attempted murder, contravening the Electoral Act and causing malicious damage to property.

According to Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Ronel Otto, one of those arrested got into an argument with officials at the Xigalo Primary School voting station after he answered a phone call inside the voting area.

A group then used stones to attack police who arrived on the scene as backup. A service pistol belonging to one of the officers was stolen in the altercation.

Earlier, in Cambridge, East London, police fired rubber bullets and used teargas to disperse a group of youngsters who tried to burn down the Gcobani Community Hall voting station.

The IEC also reported that electoral staff from Ward 95 in Folweni, south of Durban, were dismissed because of irregularities during the special voting process. Emergency staff had been deployed to the affected polling stations.

Meanwhile, a presiding officer of Mpumalanga JSS Ward 9, at Mnquma Municipality, in the Eastern Cape, was also fired after it was discovered that she was a branch secretary of a political party.

Inclement weather also wreaked havoc in certain areas – with about 30 tents blown over in parts of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the Northern Cape.

Technical hiccups

Rumblings by disgruntled parties also popped up here and there: In the Western Cape, ANC officials vowed to lay a complaint with the IEC against Democratic Alliance party agents who they alleged interfered with voters and ANC party agents. The opposition party however denied the claims.

The newly-formed Malamulele Community Association (MCA) cried foul, claiming that ballot papers had only their logo printed on them and not their party name in its abbreviated form.

Another opposition party, Ximoko, alleged their party agents didn’t get identification stickers.

There were some technical hiccups at scattered stations, mainly to do with too few or faulty scanners, and an apparent lack of ballot papers in one case.

The mingling of the masses with political maestros evoked some of the lighter moments of the day.

Gogo Sizeni Mbambo, 101, clad in pink paisley print and wielding a knobkierie, ululated and danced in the dusty grounds of the Ntolwane Primary School voting station in Nkandla when the object of her admiration, ANC president Jacob Zuma arrived.
“Don’t laugh at me now, it is because I am weak and old, but in the past, I used to beat the other young girls in dancing,” said Mbambo, much to Zuma’s amusement.

Maimane goes unrecognised

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema and his wife were accompanied by his grandmother as they marked their Xs at Mponegele Primary School voting station in Seshego, Limpopo.

In Johannesburg, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and his wife Natalie, paid a nostalgic visit back to his alma mater when he voted at the Allen Glen High School in Roodepoort.

However, a later visit he paid to a Gelvandale voting station turned somewhat into farce when his public status went unrecognised by an official.

“And you are?” The presiding officer asked, prompting Maimane to produce a letter from the IEC giving him permission to visit.

And finally, there were the offbeat and oddball accompaniments to voting day.

One elderly man tried to vote with his apartheid era-dompas, while another in Durban was turned away from voting after being told he was officially dead.

In Gelvandale a voter showed up at the voting station in army fatigues featuring the old and new South African flags, saying both represented his country and both white and black people.

Most competitive elections yet

He said now he wanted a flag to represent the coloured people, which he would put over his heart; one he imagined would show someone “sleeping after lunch or holding up a gun”.

A bizarre Cape Flats social media campaign asking people to spill their blood on ballot papers also proved ultimately unsuccessful.

A young woman was ostracised by a group of ANC supporters in Masiphumelele in the Western Cape after she was spotted wearing a DA T-shirt – although all was forgiven when she promised to only use it as pyjamas.

Meanwhile one IEC official complained to a News24 reporter about her Fanta-grape-purple outfit.

“I feel like Barney!” the official said referring to the children’s television character dinosaur.

Political analyst Piet Croucamp suggested that this year’s local elections were the most competitive in South Africa’s democratic history.

Voter turnout was expected to be higher than ever before and he predicted that the EFF would make a significant impact at the polls.

“We see the likelihood of coalitions in various metropolitans and municipalities,” he said.


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Election day in South Africa: how it unfolded