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Authorities in KwaZulu-Natal on high alert ahead of polls

Authorities in KwaZulu-Natal on high alert ahead of polls
Illustrative image | source: Soldiers in Umlazi township in Durban on 9 April 2020. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

As Wednesday’s general elections approach, KwaZulu-Natal is in a state of apprehension and excitement. The police are preparing for possible protests, but no major incidents were reported on the first day of special voting on Monday.

Opinion polls suggest that KwaZulu-Natal, with 5.7 million registered voters, will be closely contested in Wednesday’s general elections and is likely to emerge with a coalition provincial administration as no party will win the province with an absolute majority.

The province has a history of political violence and saw widespread destruction in the 2021 unrest that was sparked by former president Jacob Zuma’s incarceration. The elections have heightened tensions in the province, with the authorities on high alert for possible protests.

About a week before the elections, the All Truck Drivers Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF-ASA), an organisation that claims to be fighting for the rights of South African truck drivers, threatened a shutdown of all the major roads and freeways in KZN to protest against the hiring of foreign truck drivers. The shutdown was called off at the eleventh hour.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 — on the road

On Friday, 24 May, a group of uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party supporters tried to block the N3 highway in protest against the Constitutional Court judgment which ruled that Zuma, the leader of the MK party, was not eligible for any position in the National Assembly due to his conviction and sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court.

Before the judgment, the MK party had announced Zuma as its presidential candidate and, although his candidature is now null and void, an image of his face will still feature on the ballot paper.

kwazulu-natal polls

The ANC has been campaigning heavily in Umlazi township in efforts to counter the rise in popularity of the recently formed MK party. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

MK’s protest was quickly dealt with by members of the riot police and other members of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints). 

But on Sunday night, a group of MK supporters allegedly blockaded the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC’s) logistical centre in Hammarsdale and held IEC staff hostage, accusing them of trying to rig the elections.

Here too, riot police had to be called in to defuse tension.

IEC deputy chief electoral officer Masego Sheburi said: “In Hammarsdale, a group of persons purported to be members, supporters or leaders of MK took over our warehouse, detained our people there, refused for them to leave and started circulating videos on social media claiming that they found millions of ballot boxes already marked for a particular party. That can’t be further from the truth. 

“They [the ballot boxes] were marked properly with the details of the voting stations and in any case, there are standard verifications that must happen before a voting station is open. We will take legal action because this is a flagrant disregard of the law prohibiting anyone from interfering with electoral operations.”  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Electoral Commission of SA quashes MK party’s vote-rigging allegations

There are fears that the elections could result in violent confrontations between supporters of the MK party and the ANC.

There is also lingering tension between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The strife between the political foes resulted in the death of thousands of people in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in the 1980s and ’90s. The current tussle for power in the province has reignited the political rhetoric that came with the violence of that era.

The latest row is around Zulu King Misuzulu kaZwelithini, some of the king’s controversial appointments, the Ingonyama Trust and the vast area of land under its command.

Possible protest action

Last week, the SA Police Service sent a confidential communique to district commissioners, crime intelligence heads and other NatJoints officials, alerting them to be ready to respond to a secretly planned strike and/or shutdown by the MK party triggered by the barring of Zuma from entering the elections as a candidate.

kwazulu-natal high alert polls

Umlazi attracts local and international tourists despite the township’s high crime rate. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The communique listed 47 hotspots where Zuma is perceived to be popular, including Durban Central, KwaMashu, Umlazi, Phoenix, Van Reenen’s Pass and Pietermaritzburg.

“The district commissioners must please ensure that the above-mentioned protest action is monitored and a contingency plan must be put in place to deal with any eventuality which may arise.

“A detailed intelligence assessment must be done so that sufficient resources can be deployed to ensure the safety and security of people attending and the general public,” said the communique, which was signed off by KZN’s deputy commissioner of policing, Major General GP Makoba.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA’s May elections unlikely to result in widespread public violence

‘No major incidents’

Despite the tensions and ruckus at the Hammarsdale IEC logistical centre, Thabani Ngwira, the IEC spokesperson in KZN, told Daily Maverick on Monday evening they were “happy about the progress made so far and the preparation” for voting on Wednesday and the subsequent counting and result-announcing periods.

“The commission is pleased to report that all operations are going well and no major incidents have been reported. However, we are aware of minor incidents that hampered the opening of voting stations on time and these were reported in the following municipalities: Harding Ward 2 where an area manager was involved in an accident; eThekwini Metro Ward 68 where four tents were not erected on time due to the delay by the service provider, and also in Harry Gwala, uMzimkhulu Ward 5 where service delivery protests were forming but quickly curtailed by law enforcement agencies. 

“All reported incidents were efficiently resolved and operations resumed without any further delays. As a commission, we are confident that operations will continue smoothly throughout the day and tomorrow, the 28th of May which is the second and final day of the commission to conclude administration of special votes,” he said.

Observers on the ground

Bishop Mike Vorster, an election observer in KwaZulu-Natal, said observers visited several hotspots in the province, including the notorious Glebelands Hostel, and saw apprehension and excitement ahead of the general elections.

“So far we have briefings, including from the IEC. We are busy mobilising for the final day of the elections where we will be putting boots on the ground. We have heard about the hotspots listed by the police. 

“Basically, we will be covering every district. We will be working together with observers from the African Union countries and the observers from America and Europe. We will stay in these areas overnight, if necessary, to ensure that the elections are not only free and fair, but also the whole process is transparent,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior politics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it was the first time in many years that there was so much tension and excitement ahead of elections.

“It was only in 1994 when we saw this. I think the formation of the MK party has created much of that excitement and tension because everyone is keen to know which party will end up victorious. This is because there is no political party that will win the province outright.

“Nationally, there is excitement because for the first time the ANC might lose its majority and there, too, it would be interesting what coalitions, if any, will emerge,” Ndlovu said. DM


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