South Africa

Elections: Register, register, but don’t mind the media

By Greg Nicolson 11 November 2013

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) drive to register voters for the 2014 election drew well over one million people this weekend. Political parties descended on communities – and your inbox if you were lucky enough to get an SMS from Helen Zille – and the media got a tongue-lashing from the ANC and police. GREG NICOLSON gives you the wrap-up.

The IEC had strong hopes for the registration of voters for the 2014 elections. Its website got 270,000 hits on Friday and its Facebook page has become the third fastest growing account in SA. “The Electoral Commission hopes that this awareness and interest translates into a high turnout at voter registration stations this weekend – especially by the youth. As at 31 October 2013, there were 23,139,142 people registered to vote, representing 73.6% of the voting age population according to latest census figures,” it said. The goal is to get that figure to 80%.

The state beefed up security ahead of the registrations after some protesting communities vowed to disrupt the process. On Friday, President Jacob Zuma informed Parliament that 75 South African Defence Force members would be deployed to help police over the weekend and on the weekend of 8 February 2014 at a cost of R1.2 million.

The registrations ran smoothly with few hiccups. On the way to a voting station near the Botswana border, officials were held up by a passing herd of elephants, but made it in the end. Other areas of disruption were Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape, Malamulele in Limpopo, the Joe Morolong municipality in the Northern Cape, Site C Lansdowne Road in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape, and Bekkersdal in Gauteng, where protests or intimidation curtailed registrations.

Early figures, however, indicate a positive response to voting. “Preliminary estimates were that approximately 1.1 million persons visited registration stations yesterday,” said the IEC on Sunday. “Early trends were that approximately 40% were new registrations, 49% were applicant changing registration details from one voting district to another and 11% were applicant re-registering in the same voting district. Initial trends also point to a relatively high turnout by young people with up to 75% of new registrations being people under 30 years of age. The largest numbers of visits to registration stations recorded by last night were in Gauteng, KZN and Western Cape.” The IEC wants 2 million registrations.

Once it finishes collating and unpacking the applications, the IEC will hold a press conference on Wednesday to describe the figures in detail, said spokesperson Kate Bapela. Those figures will help to gauge the pulse of the nation’s view on politics – who is registering to vote and where. The voting stations closed at 5pm on Sunday, but IEC municipal centres remain open for applications (if you make an appointment) and another registration weekend will take place in February.

Writing in City Press on Sunday, IEC chief electoral officer Mosotho Moepya highlighted how important it is for youth to register and vote. “With almost two-thirds of our population under the age of 35, the youth hold the future of our country in their hands,” he said. In every election since 1994, those aged 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 have been the largest two voting blocs. Youth registrations are increasing but at a rate behind the rest of the electorate. According to figures from 30 September, less than 50% of eligible voters under 30 were registered, compared to 90% for older groups. In the 2011 municipal election 28% of potential voters under 30-years-old cast a ballot, compared with an average of 60% for people over 40. The number of registered voters who actually go to the polls on voting day is also generally lower for youth.

Political parties were out in force this weekend, campaigning voters and encouraging people to register for 2014. The ANC deployed leaders across the country. President Zuma checked his registration status at Ntolwane Primary School in Nkandla while ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa went to Economic Freedom Fighter Julius Malema’s hometown Seshego. According to a City Press report, Ramaphosa struggled on his door-to-door visit as some residents blamed the ANC for poor service delivery or expressed support for EFF. The ANC countered the report with a press release focusing on the support Ramaphosa and the ANC received.

On Sunday night, the party sent a scathing rebuke. “To use these uneventful occurrences as an opportunity to fabricate and distort the entire visit in order to suggest the deputy president was ‘shunned by the entire Seshego’ is illustrative of the extent City Press would go in order to reflect the ANC in bad light,” said ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu. He added: “We are not surprised because when it comes to issues relating to the ANC, the paper throws every journalistic ethic out of the window in favour of distortion, fabrication and sensation. This approach, which was tailor-made specifically for ANC-related stories, was confirmed in so many words by the paper’s editor during her fight with her black colleagues recently. What outrages us though is City Press’s relentless onslaught against the movement through blatant inventions and falsifications.”

The ANC was particularly active in Gauteng’s hotspots. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa visited Bekkersdal on Saturday where service delivery protests prevented the opening of registration centres. The SAPS said TV stations reported that Mthethwa ordered their closure. “ENCA TV station is currently leading with an incorrect headline that the minister has ordered the closure of two polling stations due to alleged intimidation of Independent Electoral Commission staff. The report is misleading, sensational and lacks basic elements of professional journalism which involve thorough verification of facts before reporting,” said Mthethwa’s spokesperson Zweli Mnisi. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was in Bekkersdal on Sunday to monitor service delivery.

On Sunday, Mthethwa was in Khutsong with Gauteng ANC leader Paul Mashatile to address community concerns on crime. Last Sunday six people were killed in mob violence attacks. The minister talked about cleaning up the SAPS and urged residents to work with the police to address crime within the law.

Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson and candidate for Gauteng premier Mmusi Maimane was touring the province’s registration points and said, “It is encouraging to note the number of people who have already registered this weekend and we hope that this continues into today. Increasing support for the DA is clear as we continue to gain on the ANC and register high numbers of new voters.” Over the weekend, the DA sent SMSs encouraging people to register and vote DA. The SMSes were signed by party leader Helen Zille.

EFF leader Julius Malema was inspecting the scene in Seshego while Agang SA leader Mamphela Ramphele joined in the chorus, stressing the importance of taking part in the elections. “Voting is a sacred duty. Young people today do not have to fight for freedom as we did in the past – they just need to vote,” she said. DM

Photo: Voters queue in Joubert Park in Johannesburg, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 to vote in the national elections. South Africans are holding their fourth post-Apartheid elections after the fall of white minority rule in 1994. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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