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2019 Elections

Newsflash: Minor protests delay opening of polling stations

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 1: Independent Electoral Commission's CEO, Sy Mamabolo, speaks during the launch of an e-online reporting platform for citizens to report instances of lalleged digital disinformation on, Monday 1 April 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

The day of what has been called the most important election in South African history post-1994 has finally arrived. Millions of South Africans have gone out to vote. However, in some provinces there has been some unrest, leading to disruptions in voting.

Speaking at the National Results Operation Centre in Pretoria, the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) Chief Electoral Office, Sy Mamabolo, told media that “election day got underway to a very positive start today”.

This as thousands of South Africans headed to polls to go make their mark, despite inclement weather reported in parts of the country; including parts of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Free State.

Mamabolo said despite minor mishaps, the process had been quite smooth.

As always there were some challenges reported including instances where election staff failed to report on time for duty, and where materials were delivered late,” said Mamabolo.

The IEC said 10% of the 22,924 voting stations were not open by the 7am starting time. By 11.30am 17 voting stations remained unopened, 14 of these were on the southern coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

Protest action, which saw protesters dig trenches outside voting stations during the early hours of the morning, prevent staff from gaining access, and blockade of roads with the burning of tyres, was the cause of the delay at several voting stations, Umbumbulu, Folweni and Ndwedwe, all in KwaZulu-Natal.

The IEC said the affected stations will be open past the 9pm deadline.

Holpan, a town in the Northern Cape was the battleground for protesters and police, as the protesters attempted to prevent those wanting to vote from doing so. However, order was eventually restored, and voting continued under heavy police presence.

There were protests in Dithakong West in the North West too, but these were minor and non-violent, with protesters lighting a bonfire on the side of the road and chatting to police officials, telling them they are not going to vote. “Look at our roads,” said one individual pointing out a dust road. “In my house, I don’t have electricity. I’m not voting.”

In Vuwani, Limpopo, where residents were boycotting the poll, the situation remained unpredictable after the arrest of one of the protest leaders of the Pro-Makhado Task Team on Monday night. The task team is leading a protest to have Vuwani reincorporated under the jurisdiction of the Makhado municipality. He is expected to be charged with intimidation and the contravention of the Electoral Act. On Wednesday there was a heavy police presence in the area. The residents are boycotting the general elections to push for their demand to be met.

Police in Durban were kept busy on Wednesday morning after several protests flared up.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said the main protest started at 6am when a group of community members blocked the Ntuzuma access road with burning tyres and stones near Nhlungwane.

Zwane said other protests were reported along the N2 near Umgababa and the Folweni/Umbumbulu road but had been cleared. He said there were also protests in the Reservoir Hills and Mayville areas. “Police are currently monitoring the area.”

The IEC said it had dismissed two presiding electoral officers for mishandling ballot boxes. This after videos went viral showing an official in Benoni, and another in Ermelo contravening the IEC policies for handling ballot boxes. Mamabolo said officials have been “trained extensively”, and thus there was no excuse for these two incidents.

There have also been rumours of people somehow removing the thumb ink in order to vote more than once. Mamabolo had stern words of warning for those guilty of this.

The indelible ink is one of a number of security checks and safeguards built into the election process but the Commission wishes to remind all voters that any attempt to undermine the integrity of the election process – including attempting to remove the ink mark – constitutes electoral fraud and is punishable by up to 10 years in jail,” stated Mamabolo. DM

Additional reporting by News24