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2024 ELECTIONS

Queues and more queues as first poll result declared just past midnight

Queues and more queues as first poll result declared just past midnight
Voters queue at sunrise in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape. (Photo: Deon Ferreira)

Bizana Baptist Church in Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Local Municipality, Eastern Cape, was the first result declared in the 2024 general elections 15 minutes into Thursday morning. The ANC scored 99 votes, the EFF 29, the MK party 17, the DA five and Bosa one.

The bells were rung in the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) national results centre – and the first votes were posted on the giant results boards.

After a day when millions of South Africans started queuing early, and often for many hours, at the 23,292 voting stations across the country, this first result shifts the elections into its next stage.

“It is not the aim of the commission to take the whole seven days and let the country wait,” IEC Chief Electoral Officer Sy Mamabolo had said earlier on Wednesday night, citing accuracy and speed as key criteria.

“For as long as you don’t announce the results, the country is in a politically tenuous position, the markets react, and so on…”

About 15 minutes past midnight in the early hours of Thursday, Mamabolo said, “There is no panic. The work is not happening haphazardly.”

Political parties are closely watching the results, which pundits for the first time predicted could see the governing ANC lose its majority. Whether that’s a sharp drop towards the 40% mark, closer to 50% or even a 50 plus one majority to contradict prevailing polls depends on voter choice and voter turnout. Those numbers will only emerge as the vote count inches forward later on Thursday.

But the ANC desk at the IEC national results centre was “quietly optimistic” on Wednesday night. Video clips of long voters’ queues in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal township bases were circulating. It was taken as a sign the boots-on-the-ground campaigning of the past 10 days was paying off for the ANC, which pundits in the run-up to the 29 May poll widely predicted would lose its governing majority. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: IEC anticipates high voter turnout ‘well beyond’ that of 2019 as voters continue to line up across SA

Elsewhere, the long queues raised concerns – alongside erratic voter management devices (VMDs), which some opposition parties said meant voters were only given one ballot, and thus in effect disenfranchised. 

Not so, said Mamabolo at the 7pm briefing.

“It is not correct that the VMDs disenfranchised people. Where it did not operate, you could always use the physical copy of the voters’ roll … People could vote and people voted using the physical copy of the voters’ roll, which is a legislated requirement at the voting station.”

That presiding officers frequently seemed not to do as advised, and return to use the physical voters’ roll emerged in reports on the delays and increasing queues throughout the afternoon. Often it seemed the focus was on rebooting the VMDs. The IEC said it had taken “mitigation measures” in the afternoon, but as soon as voters went through the process, more voters had joined the queue. A “late surge”, especially in the metro areas, also complicated matters.

Long queues formed from KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal and Alexandra in Gauteng to Observatory in Cape Town. Voters stood in line for hours, unlike in the 2019 elections. For some, these snaking lines of voters evoked memories of the first democratic 1994 elections.

As the sun set, darkness became an additional challenge in many voting stations, where cellphones turned into lights. But everyone in the queue at 9pm, when voting stations closed on Wednesday night, would be able to cast their ballots, the IEC maintained. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Election 2024 what-ifs and what-nows — abandoned ballot boxes, wonky voter scanners and long, long queues

Mamabolo dismissed the possibility of extending the vote for another day. Storing voting material would be a security risk, among other concerns.

“We are in for a higher turnout than we had in 2019. That is why it is the single most intention of the commission [that] every voter in the queue is given the opportunity to make their choice,” said the chief electoral officer.

That long queues did not necessarily mean high voter turnout failed to land. 

While the IEC did not announce any percentages or numbers, Mamabolo said voter turnout “will probably be well beyond the 66% we had in 2019”. In contrast, as the 9pm voting station closing time approached, party-political estimates of voter turnout were in the lower 60 percentages, not quite as optimistic as the IEC.

But in the hotly contested 2024 election, every vote counts. Even 1,000 votes could make a difference, according to one opposition party rep at the IEC national results centre at Gallagher Estate. But that cuts both ways, also for the ANC.

Perhaps this is why hope, hype and sometimes hyperbole prevailed. This 2024 election has been styled as a watershed, largely on the back of polling the ANC losing governance control. However, the opposition balance sheet is lacking; at best the Multi-Party Charter of several opposition parties garners 40% polling support.

As voting stations closed at 9pm on Wednesday – by 11pm just over 60% had closed – the counting of ballots started at each voting station. As the results signed off by the IEC and reps of political parties are checked, audited and scanned, the results boards at the IEC national results centre are updated.

It’s all eyes on those moving numbers on the boards, if the eyes are not on doing some number-crunching for seats in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Gallery

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