Millions of South Africans are expected to vote as municipal election gets underway on Wednesday across the country. Enthusiastic voters arrived in polling stations as early as 03.00 although there were reports of some polling stations yet to be opened at 07.00.
On Tuesday night the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said it was confident that the elections would run smoothly and that preparations were in place to contribute to a free, fair and peaceful voting process.
“All that remains is for all 26.3 million registered voters to come out and cast their votes,” Chairperson Glen Mashinini told reporters.
“The 22 612 voting stations will open for voting at 07:00 and close at 19:00. Of course, no voter will be turned away and voters who are at voting stations at 19:00 but have not yet had an opportunity to vote will be allowed to cast their ballots.”
President Jacob Zuma expressed confidence that the exercise would be successful when he toured the IEC’s results centre on Tuesday. He said he did not believe anything could go wrong and derail the elections.
“It is clear that very little will go wrong, everything will go fine. The process is so transparent that everyone has an opportunity to look,” he said at the time.
“I’m very happy because we are one of the biggest countries on the African continent and I think the manner in which we conduct our elections is very satisfying and even our democracy is maturing together with the system under the direction of the IEC commissioner. I can now say without any fear of contradiction that we are ready for the elections. The fact that they have started with special votes indicates our readiness,” he said.
Zuma is billed to vote at 10.00 in Nkandla, his village in the Kwazulu Natal province.
Special voters had the opportunity to cast their ballot on Monday and Tuesday. These are people who cannot get to their voting station on the day due to a physical condition, or because they will not be in the vicinity of their voting station. Among high profile personalities who cast their ballot in special voting on Tuesday were Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbethe
The IEC received more than 740 000 applications for special votes for this election – more than three times the number received in 2011, and nearly double that received in 2014.
Some disgruntled citizens and communities have vowed not to participate in the voting, citing service delivery issues. Last week the government and senior traditional leaders signed a peace deal in the hope of ending violence in the Vuwani area and to persuade residents to vote. But on Tuesday, the eve of the election, the deal had all but collapsed.
Residents have resolved to be play soccer and other games rather than join millions of people who are set to vote.
Some residents said participating in the election would be “endorsing and accepting” that they want to be part of a new municipality.
In May, residents of Vuwani went to the high court in a bid to have the Municipal Demarcation Board decision to create a new municipality that would include their area reversed. Their bid failed and protests erupted, resulting in the torching of at least 20 schools.
The run-up to the election was also characterized by violence and political assassinations, especially in Kwazulu Natal where about a dozen candidates of the governing ANC were murdered. These murders, suspected to an intra-party affair remain unsolved.
The ANC is facing the hardest time at the polls as it has lost considerable support in recent times and it is widely expected that the party might not get enough majority votes to retain control of major municipalities including Tshwane in the capital.
In the event of no party garnering enough votes to win a municipality there would be a coalition between the leading parties to govern. One of the three biggest parties, the Economic Freedom Front has indicated that it is not interested in coalition with the ANC but the national Freedom Party (NFP) had announced that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding for its members in Kwazulu Natal to vote for the ANC in the municipal election.
The IEC disqualified the NFP from participating in the election after it failed to pay the mandatory fees. Party officials said the party had forgotten to do so before the deadline.
At least 28 million registered voters are expected to cast their votes in the municipal polls with about 200 political parties and over 61 000 candidates participating.
President Zuma said he had since authorised the deployment of more than 2 000 of the South African National Defence Force members to assist the police to maintain law and order during voting process.