South Africans were turned up in their numbers on Wednesday to cast their ballots in the municipal elections, but the IEC reported an unrest in Vuwani as residents of the troubled Limpopo town locked officials out of voting stations after a peaceful start around the rest of the country.
The IEC said officials were stranded for hours as the gates of polling stations were barred and the roads leading to them blockaded with big rocks.
Police and soldiers poured into the area and helped the IEC set up tents as alternative venues to allow voting to continue.
Speaking to media at Vyeboom, west of the Vuwani township, Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen urged residents of the town scarred by a violent demarcation dispute to exercise their democratic right to elect leaders of their choice.
“We think our people will come and elect leaders of their choice, and champion their development agenda,” said Van Rooyen, but conceded that the strife was unlikely to die down after voting day.
Around halfway through the 12-hour voting period, the IEC chairperson Vumana Glen Mashinini told reporters: “The Electoral Commission is particularly encouraged that many voting stations reported strong turnouts from early in the day with many voters already waiting to vote before the 7am opening.”
Voter turnout is key to the outcome of the elections, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) believing it would determine its fortunes in the closely contested metros such Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, while the African National Congress (ANC) stands to gain from people voting in their numbers in the poor rural areas.
Mid-morning, President Jacob Zuma cast his ballot in Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal, and took obvious delight in chatting to villagers. Former president Thabo Mbeki struck a more sombre note as he voted in Johannesburg, saying the bloodshed that marred the run-up to the vote as ANC factions fought over nominations had been “very, very disturbing”.
“I hope that by the time we finish the elections today the situation of peace will continue to prevail,” he told reporters.
Calm prevailed in Tshwane on Wednesday, and Mashinini said the situation was peaceful in other areas identified as potential hot spots in the run-up to the elections, including Emfuleni and Midvaal in Gauteng and Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal.
There were “isolated reports of unrest and community protests” hindering the start of voting in a few voting districts in the Eastern Cape, notably in Ward 16 in Ntabankulu and Ward 8 in Amathole, and the security were deployed to restore calm.
In Wonderkop, where 34 mineworkers were gunned down four years ago, North West premier and ANC provincial chairperson Supra Mahumapelo expressed relief that in contrast to the last national elections, voting here was happening peacefully.
“Today people are free, there is peace and stability tolerance is bearing fruit. We must commend people of Marikana,” he said.
“The situation is peaceful, there are no problems. In 2014 there was tension, people were intimidated when they wanted to vote. Today there peace.”
More than 26 million registered voters means Wednesday marks the biggest election in South Africa’s history. The result is expected to see the ANC shed support after a succession of scandals. Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin said as he prepared to vote in Pinelands, that he believed the ANC would have cause for soul searching once the count was in.
But analysts believe the Democratic Alliance is unlikely to unseat the ruling party in Johannesburg or Tshwane. The DA’s prospects of taking power in Nelson Mandela Bay seemed stronger, with an Ipsos poll predicting it would emerge as the biggest party here.
– African News Agency (ANA)