The Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) provincial electoral officer for the Free State, Jabulani Tshabalala, said: “On a readiness scale of one to 10, I will give us an 11.” He said this about his team’s preparations for the upcoming local government elections on August 3.
“We have a credible voters role in place, we have trained, competent staff, we have effective logistics in place and we have an environment in which free and fair elections can take place. The Free State has never recorded any incidents of intimidation, which is a definite plus for our province. And we aim to build on this good track record for the upcoming elections.”
Tshabalala believes the stakes are high in this year’s elections, as they’ve seen increased participation from political parties and independent candidates.
In the Free State, 27 parties have registered, eight of them for the first time, along with 83 independent candidates. They will be vying for the province’s 729 seats in municipal councils, made up of 420 proportional representation seats and 309 for ward candidates.
“We’ve done campaigning on radio and placed adverts in all major Sunday newspapers, encouraging people to vote and educating them about the voting process,” said Mampi Mahlatsi, the IEC’s official in charge of balloting education in the province.
“For the first time, we’ve also made extensive use of social media platforms to reach potential voters. We also intend to send out 1.3 million SMSes to first-time voters, encouraging them to go to the polls.”
She believes these campaigns will be particularly effective to reach the province’s young voters. In the Free State, 47% of the registered voting population of around 1.5 million voters, are younger than 35.
“We are grateful that we have not experienced any violence in our province in the build up to the elections,” said electoral manager Ithumeleng Liba. “We are working closely with the South African Police Service to make sure it stays that way. We have no ‘no-go areas’ and are not aware of any hot spots.
“But trained conflict managers are on standby should anything go wrong over the election period.”
In terms of logistics, Liba says they have buffer stock of all voting material and detailed checklists to make sure everything was in working order.
The Free State has 18 local municipalities, one metro council (Bloemfontein and surrounding areas) and four district councils. This has been divided into 309 wards, made up of 1 531 voting districts.
“We have increased our number of voting stations to ensure that people will not have to walk long distances to vote,” said Tshabalala. “We have some vast, sparsely populated areas, especially in the Xhariep district in the Southern Free State. The law says voters should be within 10 kilometres of a voting station in rural areas.
“But we’ve made sure that no-one will have to walk further than about a kilometer in the Free State.”
He said this would mean that even on farms, farm workers would not be dependent on anyone for transport, but would be able to get to polling stations on their own steam.
“We have very good relationship with farmers in the province and have not experienced any problems where voting stations are set up on farms,” he said.
Tshabalala, who will be in charge of the IEC’s provincial operations for the first time, said there had been an encouraging spirit of goodwill amongst the province’s political parties, candidates and electorate in the run-up to the elections.
“Our problems in the Free State have really been minimal. And we have confidence that it will stay that way.”
– African News Agency (ANA)