There were few serious incidents to mar yesterday’s local government elections across the country, although the freezing, rainy and windy conditions played havoc with voter turnout in many districts of the Eastern Cape.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) national centre announced by mid-morning that the elections had got off to a smooth start, but there were anti-poll disruptions in East London’s Cambridge Location, Ntabankulu, and Ndakana and Zamulwazi in Amahlathi.
The IEC also confirmed a presiding officer and his deputy were fired in Mthatha after being found to have influenced two special voters at a polling station on Tuesday.
The Eastern Cape – where 3.33-million people were registered to vote – remained hotly contested yesterday among the 40 parties and hundreds of independent candidates. While a relatively sedate polling day rolled out in Buffalo City Metro, Nelson Mandela Metro remained on a knife-edge as the fight between the ruling ANC and the DA went down to the wire.
In Mthatha, a gale blew away two tents erected by the IEC to ease the strain on the busy town hall station. By 2pm, all voting was taking place in the hall. The IEC later reported the collapse of 22 temporary voting stations around the province, prompting political parties to seek extensions to voting times beyond the 7pm stop.
Most voting stations opened on time and few voters had to endure lengthy queuing times. However, it appeared suburban voting stations were busier than township polling booths. The longest line was 50 voters outside and 70 inside an Anglican church in Amalinda, East London. Voter traffic was slow but steady at Braelyn, Sohco, Scenery Park, Reeston, Amalinda Forest, Highway Gardens, Sunnyside and Cambridge.
Among the early arrivals at the Beaconhurst Primary School station in Beacon Bay was Premier Phumulo Masualle, looking dapper in a navy sports coat and grey polo-neck. After a hiccup with the scanner, he quipped to reporters: “Your vote is your secret but everybody knows who I am voting for.”
But Masualle chastised the actions of protesters yesterday, saying election day disruptions were “anti-democratic and counterproductive”.
In Cambridge Location in East London, the day began with burning tyres and about 200 protesters in the streets, preventing officials from reaching the voting station. The ANC branch in the ward has in recent weeks been demonstrating over the imposition of a candidate for the council elections.
Police were quickly on the scene, firing rubber bullets at the crowd and soon after 8am said the way was cleared for voters to use the station.
Masualle’s comment appeared to dovetail with concerns expressed by the EFF’s election coordinator in the area, Bonisile Makati, that only 13 locals had voted out of 2600 registered voters.
The situation was quiet in Breidbach, King William’s Town, where disruptions had also been threatened. “There are lots of things we need in Breidbach. We’re not happy here, but no one can stop the vote,” said community member Cyprian Cramford. He said the intended disruption was not officially called off, it just didn’t happen, adding matter-of-factly before going off to vote: “It’s voting day today.”
Voting queues were radically cut in Mdantsane, apparently the result of the freezing gale and rain which also caused electricity poles to topple, cutting power in the Mdantsane Mall area.
The Mthatha weather fiasco was avoided by ANC provincial spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane and his wife Vathiswa Qoboshiyane, who had cast their votes at the station earlier in the day.
But Qoboshiyane criticised the IEC for using marquees instead of hiring existing buildings. Another tent had blown over in Breidbach.
“We are worried that some voters who were turned away when the tent collapsed might not go back to vote.”
He said he had been voting at the station “since my first vote in 1994 – all these years I have been voting here with my family”.
His twin sister Mlibokazi Qoboshiyane was one of the ANC party agents at the station .
ANC mayoral candidate in OR Tambo district Nomakhosazana Meth cast her vote shortly after 7am at the Mthatha regional hospital voting centre along Nelson Mandela Drive.
The tent where Meth voted did not have electricity and she had to use her cellphone to assist IEC officials to look for the names of voters on the voters’ roll as it was too dark to see properly.
In Grahamstown and Bathurst, IEC officials said voters were trickling in slowly to polling stations to avoid queuing in the rain.
In Tyutyu Village near Bhisho, people wrapped themselves in quilts, strapped on their boots, and wore fur-lined coats to brave the weather on the way to the station. Neliswa Mphathi, 54, became highly emotional when asked why it was important for her to make her mark.
“I can’t not vote, I get a grant, I get paid. I can’t not vote, I have to because we are also hoping for toilets and houses here in Tyutyu,” she said.
Many of the early arrivals at stations were the elderly. Sterkspruit businesswoman and retired teacher Nomonde Languza, 75, was so excited to vote she woke at 3am and was at her voting station at 6am. She is concerned with water and power cuts which harm her bed-and-breakfast business.
Esther Mbengo, an 80-year-old gogo whose sympathies lie with the Sterkspruit Civic Alliance, missed out on a special vote because IEC officials went to the wrong address earlier in the week. Yesterday morning, she undertook a painful walk to her voting station to vote.
But in Macacuba, 19-year-old Grade 8 pupil Nosiphiwe Sogeje stood out among scores of elderly voters. She was voting for the first time and said she had battled to sleep at night, overwhelmed by the prospect of putting her cross on the ballot paper and contributing to the development of the country.
Also in Sterkspruit, sport, recreation, arts and culture MEC Pemmy Majodina criticised secessionary protests waged by the alliance which wants the town out of the Senqu municipality.