South Africa

The loneliness of the long-distance politician: waiting for election results

By Marianne Thamm 9 May 2014

After the noise, colour, excitement and pageantry of the campaign trail, the pop-up Western Cape IEC Results Operation Centre is a sort of political purgatory for sleep-deprived politicians, party officials and the media pack as everyone hangs around waiting to learn the fate of those who wish to govern us. By MARIANNE THAMM.

The interior of the 4,200 square-metre Proteaville Recreation Centre, located in the drab industrial suburb of Bellville South in Cape Town, has been fashioned into a sort of cross between a shopping mall food court and a muted stock exchange floor over the past few days.

Equipped with 119 computers, about 92 phones, over 20km of data fibre and network cabling as well as over 156 power points, this has been the local hub and nerve centre for everything anyone needs to know about breaking electoral statistics both nationally and provincially. (You could, of course, just stay at home and watch it all on a collection of fabulous online apps but hey, a bit of face time is always good).

The IEC ROC has been home to a rotating army of around 200 media representatives (including from three TV and 19 radio stations), 260 accredited representatives from 26 political parties and around 42 IEC staff who have been ensconced there since polls closed at 9pm on 7 May.

By late Thursday evening it was clear that the Democratic Alliance, apart from once again winning Robben Island (53 votes to the ANC’s 50), had secured a landslide victory in the province capturing over 1.124 million votes (around 57 percent) compared to the ANC’s 677,000 (around 34 percent).

The figure is up on 2009 results, when the DA trawled just over 1 million votes compared to the ANC’s around 621,000.

In a province of 2,941,333 registered voters, a total of 1,971,446 votes were cast with around 18,000 ballots spoilt – a total much higher than the actual vote received by Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang, which garnered a rather humiliating 8,049 votes (or 0.41 percent).

Mirroring national results, the EFF emerged as the third-largest player in the region, with 44,134 votes (2.56 percent) securing at least one seat in the provincial legislature.

Nazier Paulsen, EFF provincial premier candidate and a former lecturer and IT manager, arrived at the ROC centre sans his red beret in the early afternoon and seemed rather unsure, at this early stage, of what exactly this local win meant for his party.

“We hope to build an enabling environment for the poor. That is what we campaigned on and now we have an opportunity to prove that we will be the voice of the poor,” said Paulsen.

Paulsen could not confirm whether he would be that voice wedged between the big players, the DA and the ANC in the provincial legislature.

“We still have to decide on who that will be,” said Paulsen.

The EFF promised its constituency that it would “nationalise the sea”, provide free education and lobby for the creation of a provincial construction company that could provide up to 100,000 jobs.

Cope, which polled 7.74 percent or 152,358 votes in 2009, had dropped off the radar this time round with only 11,594 or 0.60 percent.

The Freedom Front Plus received 10,750 votes or 0.56 percent, up from 8,384 or 0.43 percent in 2009.

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ANC leader Marius Fransman spent much of the morning at the ROC, monitoring results, giving press interviews – “we are very happy with 31 percent” (um, really? – Ed) – and conferring with comrades, including provincial candidate and former MEC for education, Cameron Dugmore.

The more understated DA provincial leader, Ivan Meyer, wearing a peaked cap, kept his head down along with a phalanx of DA number crunchers who were glued to their laptops in their little ROC cubicle. Cape Town mayor, Patricia De Lille, popped in earlier to offer support and give one or two press interviews while Deputy DA leader, Theuns Botha, occupied a cubicle some way off.

At noon an exhausted IEC provincial head, Courtney Sampson, gave the final press conference of the day, saying it was time for the IEC to “move into the background so that political parties can now take centre stage with our support to lead us into the future.”

Sampson said that the 9pm closure on Wednesday had been the earliest that voting stations had ever closed on voting day, and that it was also the first time that “we have ever been at this level of progress capturing result slips”.

This, he said, was due to a few innovations that the IEC had implemented, including the breaking up of the metro into 11 management areas, and the introduction of voting centres and substations with special electoral staff for every queue.

Throughout the day the venue was enveloped by the faint aroma of canteen food as officials from various parties routinely paced in front of the huge screens with their rolling election statistics, barking numbers and percentages into their cell phones.

“We got 10,000; we need 25,000, Insha’Allah.”

“Dit kan die kant toe, dit kan daai kant toe.” [It could go either way]

Conversation appeared to be set on an endless loop – a sort of echo chamber of sound bytes – as results trickled in and particularly broadcast journalists scrambled to find a new angle during the relentless live crossings back to studios.

“Ok, we’ll do the link from here. Go fetch Fransman”.

“The EFF Premier candidate has arrived, let’s set up an interview.”

“You like the smell? It’s Yardley.”

Levels of excitement and activity around party cubicles seemed directly linked to results trickling in with some booths, like that reserved for AZAPO, simply abandoned.

But the most remarkable thing about this, our fifth multi-party general election, is not only the heartening turnout of voters across the country, but just how unremarkable it all was, just like any other election in a democratic country.

While voters might have, in the end, had to stomach more theatre and rhetoric than real debate on manifestos, policy and controversies, we can all, for now, pat ourselves on the back and begin to brace ourselves for municipal elections in 2016 – and then for the predicted seismic shifts in 2019. DM

Main Photo: EFF premier candidate, Nazier Paulsen, with his back to the DA’s Western Cape leader, Ivan Meyer at the IEC’s Results Operation Centre. (Photograph Marianne Thamm)

Photo1: ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman talks to ANCYL member Bram Hanekom and Cameron Dugmore (back to the camera).

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