First day of special voting marred by protests

Protesters blocked access to Ginsberg with rocks and burning tyres.
Protesters blocked access to Ginsberg with rocks and burning tyres.
Image: MARK ANDREWS

Protests marked the first day of special voting in parts of the Eastern Cape, as police warned they would adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards disruptions and criminality at voting stations.

The home of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement was shut down on Monday as Ginsberg residents took to the streets, blocking access to the town with burning tyres and rocks.

Independent Electoral Commission officials conducting special votes in the township, located just outside King William’s Town, were threatened with violence when they tried to enter Ginsberg.

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A group of men carrying rocks and sticks stormed towards Daily Dispatch journalists, threatening to burn their vehicle and assault them.

Residents were protesting for houses, jobs and for roads to be maintained.

A private contractor, who had been called to fix a water problem in the township, was stoned and blocked from entering the area. A truck carrying building material was also stoned.

About 20 policemen, who witnessed the stoning, were seen sitting in their vehicles and keeping an eye on the protesters. One officer told the Daily Dispatch: “You are entering [Ginsberg] at your own risk.”

SAPS members monitor the situation where protesters blocked access to Ginsberg with rocks and burning tyres yesterday.
SAPS members monitor the situation where protesters blocked access to Ginsberg with rocks and burning tyres yesterday.
Image: MARK ANDREWS

In Dutywa, villagers also took to the streets early on Monday morning, blocking the road between Dutywa and Willowvale. They were demanding clean water, houses, roads and electricity. Disruptions were also reported in Qumbu near Mthatha, where six men were arrested for public violence.

Co-operative governance & traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa said five people had been arrested in Ginsberg. He said in Dutywa, the protesters had been addressed by Mbhashe mayor Samkelo Janda, who promised to look into their concerns. The group then dispersed.

“Cogta is part of the joint multi-disciplinary approach, primarily to help resolve issues and challenges raised by protesting communities,” said Xasa.

The MEC called for tolerance to realise the objective of peaceful elections without disruptions across the province.

Eastern Cape police spokesperson Colonel Sibongile Soci confirmed that there had been community protests in Ginsberg and Dutywa.

“Community leaders are now engaged in a meeting with politicians in an effort to sort the problem out.

“So far police are monitoring the situation,” Soci said on Monday afternoon.

Soci, however, indicated that the Saps were ready to deploy sufficient members throughout the province to ensure a peaceful election at all the 4,791 polling stations in the Eastern Cape.

“I would like to assure members of the public that all safety and security measures have been put in place to create an environment for crime-free elections.

“Certain areas have been identified as hotspot areas, which we have categorised as low-, medium- or high-risk areas,” Soci said.

She called on members of the public not to take weapons of any kind to the polling stations and to obey the instructions of presiding officers.

We will not tolerate any form of criminality, intimidation and disruptive behaviour, including drunkenness at the polling stations. We are aware of instigators in various parts of the province and we will deal with them without fear or favour
Colonel Sibongile Soci

“We will not tolerate any form of criminality, intimidation and disruptive behaviour, including drunkenness at the polling stations. We are aware of instigators in various parts of the province and we will deal with them without fear or favour,” warned Soci.

Meanwhile in East London, two voting stations only opened their doors after 1pm on Monday.

In Haven Hills in Amalinda, a tent which was to be used as a voting station had not yet been erected by midday. IEC officials sat in their car, unable to help voters. Two voters, who refused to be named, left without voting. The voting station has 30 special votes registered, with 20 of those expected to visit the voting station.

“We cannot help people as the tent which was supposed to be erected hasn’t been erected and we were just told to wait,” said one IEC official.

The voting station at Morningside Old Apostolic Church, also in Amalinda, was also closed at midday as there were no officials.

Eastern Cape IEC spokesperson Julie Stanworth confirmed that there had been disruptions in Ginsberg and that officials only started working at the two voting stations after 1pm.

She could not say if there were other disruptions reported across the province.

“Police have managed to sort [out] the community protest in Ginsberg and our officials were able to do home visits. In Amalinda, we were disappointed by our service providers who were meant to erect the tents, but all is well now,” Stanworth said.

There are 452,418 people registered to cast special votes in the country. The Eastern Cape has the highest number of registered special votes with 85,282, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 70,672. Of the more than 85,000 special voters in the province, 9,665 are in the Buffalo City Metro.

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