2019 ELECTIONS

Inside KZN: Poll violence and disruptions are the main concern for the province’s IEC

By Aisha Abdool Karim 6 May 2019
Caption
Signs outside a voting Station in KwaDukuza, KwaZulu-Natal, 6 May 2019.

With special voting underway and 8 May fast approaching, KwaZulu-Natal’s Independent Electoral Commission has its work cut out trying to stay ahead of election violence hotspots. The province has 5.5m voters and 4,885 voting stations, leaving acting provincial electoral officer Ntomb’futhi Masinga with a lot of ground to cover.

“We have to spend much more time with political parties because of the history of this province,” Ntomb’futhi Masinga, acting Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) electoral officer for KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), told Daily Maverick.

“We have a history of being a very violent province, with intra-party and inter-party violence, so there’s much more time spent in this province just talking to political parties and giving them assurance.”

While Masinga is the electoral operations manager for KZN, he has also been performing the role of acting electoral officer since February when Mawethu Mosery was seconded to fill a vacancy at the national IEC office.

“It’s the worst province they could have done this to,” said Masinga. “It’s one of the provinces where we just have too many stakeholders compared to other provinces.”

There is an additional push by the IEC in the province to engage with political parties outside the required standard committee meetings. It is the only province to have an additional structure in the IEC, the Multiparty Political Intervention Committee, that deals solely with inter-party dynamics and disagreements.

Engagement with parties, especially around election time, often involves after-hours meetings on Friday evenings and over the weekend, as well as several bilateral meetings to address intra-party problems.

“Unfortunately in KZN, we’re one of those provinces where people even resort to killing each other,” said Masinga.

“With national and provincial elections you still see protests, but it’s not at the scale you would see for local government elections where it’s closer to home.”

Despite the increased competition, with the ballot paper increasing from 18 political parties in 2014 to 48 in the 2019 national elections, Masinga believes that the “political environment in communities is actually no different to other elections”.

One area of concern for the IEC is the uThukela district, near Lesotho, particularly the area that was formerly part of the Indaka municipality. Since the Indaka and Ladysmith municipalities merged to form the Alfred Duma municipality in 2016, community members feel “their plight has been forgotten”, according to Masinga.

Residents of the former Indaka municipality brought the area to a standstill in January 2019 in protest over poor service delivery and maintenance in the area.

“The issue that started off as a water and roads issue took a political identity,” which Masinga said was the reason the IEC had to intervene in order to “identify the ring-leaders”.

“Those people have now elevated their plight to that of Alexandra and they say they are not prepared to talk to us until the president comes and talks to them, because they have been like the forgotten people of the province.”

Given that the shutdown of the area was affecting the operations of the IEC and would have made it impossible to access voting stations, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the district on 20 April, over the Easter weekend, while he was on the ANC campaign trail in the province.

“There’s always a new issue that emerges with every election,” said Masinga. “This year the issue is with the anti-foreigner sentiment, particularly in the trucking industry.”

Although xenophobia has been a problem in KZN during previous elections, Masinga said 2019 was different.

“In the past, there hasn’t been this concerted effort and organised groupings that are mobilising against the employment of foreign nationals in the trucking industry.”

Due to this, the biggest area of concern the IEC has identified within the province is the N3 highway, particularly around Mooi River. Masinga believes that organisations will target ports of entry into the province, particularly where trucks enter KZN.

“They know that if they block that road (the N3), they disrupt the economy of the country,” said Masinga.

KZN has been flagged by Police Minister Bheki Cele as one of the “highest-risk areas”, for the elections, with North West province. Due to the volatile and violent nature of the province, the South African Police Services (SAPS) has sent additional officers to KZN until after the polls. The South African Defence Force will also have officers in the province.

Cele held an inspection outside Durban Central Police Station on Friday 3 May before law enforcement officers were deployed to voting stations.

“We know protests are going to intensify going into elections because people know that everyone listens to you if you threaten to disrupt elections,” said Masinga.

“There isn’t the unlimited capacity within the SAPS to be able to squash every protest that can mushroom in every part of the province, so we are worried. We are concerned, but also comfortable with the plan the SAPS has in place.” DM

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