Following months of aggressive campaigning, millions of South Africans are expected to descend on voting stations around the country on Wednesday for the fifth democratic municipal elections.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), a record 26.3 million voters registered, an 11% increase on the previous local government elections in 2011.
In 2011, 13.6 million people cast their ballots, a 57.6% voter turn-out, something the IEC is hoping to improve on this time around.
President Jacob Zuma on Monday joined political parties, NGOs and civil society organisations in urging voters to make their voices heard by casting their ballots.
“We urge all 26 million registered voters across the length and breadth of our country to speak, give direction and refresh the mandate of the third sphere of government through voting on 3 August 2016. All registered voters must celebrate democracy and freedom by turning out to vote on the 3rd of August,” the Presidency said in a statement.
With election rallies having been concluded, it would now be up to political party volunteers on the ground to appeal to their faithful support bases, as well as try to garner votes from those who are still undecided at this late stage.
In 2011, the African National Congress (ANC) managed to secure most of the country’s municipalities, garnering 63.6% of the vote nationally, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) trailing far behind at 21.9%. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) won 3.9% of the vote, followed by the National Freedom Party with 2.5%, and the Congress of the People (Cope) with 2.3%.
Campaigning has been tough in the big metros, especially Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth and Tshwane in Pretoria, where opposition parties are hoping to topple the ANC ,who in the last elections managed to secure the municipalities by small margins.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the ANC managed to secure the metro with 51.9% of the vote in 2011. The Democratic Alliance (DA) won 40.1% of the vote, the Congress of the People (COPE) 4.95%, and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) 0.55%.
Named after the founding father of democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela Bay has been a stronghold for the ANC since 1994, but from garnering more than two-thirds of the vote in 2006 to just securing the municipality in 2011, even the ruling party itself acknowledged the intense battle it faces to retain the metro by launching its election manifesto in Port Elizabeth.
The launch was poorly attended, but since then many ANC bigwigs have hit the campaign trail in a bid to help the ruling party retain the important metro.
In Tshwane metro, situated in South Africa’s capital city Pretoria, more than 700 000 people turned out at voting stations in 2011.
The ANC secured the metro with 55.3% of the vote, followed by the DA with 38.6%, and the Freedom Front Plus with 1.6%.
In June this year, protests broke out across the capital city after the ANC named Thoko Didiza as mayoral candidate over popular incumbent Tshwane Mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.
The protests died down after Ramokgopa openly supported Didiza’s candidacy, and ANC heavyweights were sent in to further quell the unrest and justify Didiza as the ruling party’s choice for mayor.
New kids on the block, the Economic Freedom Fighters, were not yet born in 2011, but given that the party emerged from nowhere to be the third-biggest party in Parliament, many analysts believe the party, led by the charismatic former ANC Youth League strongman Julius Malema, could emerge as kingmakers in some some municipalities, even though no one was quite ready to speak about possible coalitions just yet.
What should also be factored in is that this year’s elections takes place without the National Freedom Party (NFP), the fourth-largest party in Parliament, this after it failed to pay its registration fees for the local government elections on time.
While parties will be deploying party agents to voting stations to monitor elections, the IEC will be relying on police to help ensure free and fair elections as protest action already marred day one of the special voting process, which saw those who are unable to vote on Wednesday allowed to cast their ballots early.
In the run-up to the polls, several politically-related murders occurred across the country, most notably in KwaZulu-Natal where over a dozen people have lost their lives, while the Vuwani district in Limpopo has been plagued for months by violent community protests over a municipal demarcation issue.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) last week said it would deploy a total of 50 480 police officers to man voting stations. While the majority (20 634) of the 22 563 voting stations have been classified as low risk, additional officers would be deployed to medium and high risk (650) voting stations.
Police officers would also assist the IEC in moving ballot papers from warehouses to voting stations.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said last week the SAPS would pull out all the stops to ensure free and fair elections.
“We are quite committed as the SAPS in ensuring that we have peaceful elections in this country. We have successfully done that over the years so we want to ensure that even in this particular local government elections we experience the same as South Africans,” he said last week.
On Tuesday President Jacob said 2 000 soldiers will be deployed to help maintain law and order during and after the elections.
Following the first day of special votes on Monday, the IEC said it experienced delays in “very few instances” as a result of, among others, community protests, incorrect ballot papers being delivered and vehicle accidents involving electoral commission staff.
Despite the problems experienced on day one of special voting, the IEC said it was well prepared to deliver free and fair elections come Wednesday.
– African News Agency (ANA)