Citizens will be glued to media over the next few days as the results of SA's fifth national democratic election trickle in.
A tinkling bell sounded just before 11pm on Wednesday at the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) results centre in Pretoria, and the results started trickling in.
The first voting station to be counted was in Umzimvubu, Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape, putting the first numbers on the imposing electronic results board that dominates the centre: 148 votes for the ANC, five for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and three for the Democratic Alliance (DA).
After that, there was a steady stream of results pouring in from across the country, as IEC staff worked through the night to tally the electorate’s choices in South Africa’s fifth national democratic poll.
Preliminary results showed, as expected, that the three biggest parties would be the ANC, DA and EFF.
The results board will be invariably uneven in these early stages. Depending on which areas are being counted, a small party could look far more powerful that it will eventually turn out to be.
But South Africans have proven to be eager as ever for election news. Having registered the greatest number of voters to date, early indications are that a large number of voters turned out, and they will be glued to the news to watch the results unfold.
The election itself on Wednesday was something of a mixed bag.
The run-up to the elections had a different tone to former times. The ANC has fielded its weakest candidate yet – Jacob Zuma – and is likely to be punished for it with a drop in support from 2009, according to a recent Ipsos poll.
Even the party’s most faithful will have voted for the movement, and not for Zuma, if the droves that left during his speech at the party’s final rally were anything to go by.
And then there are disillusioned South African voters who could not vote ANC after key incidents, such as the Marikana massacre and the security upgrades at Nkandla.
Apart for the die-hard opposition party supporters, few found inspiring options among this year’s voting choices.
How to vote
There was simply the depressing message of former minister Ronnie Kasrils: vote for an opposition party or spoil your vote. Tactical voting, instead of fervent party support, became the order of the day for many. The idea, endorsed by this newspaper, was to keep a check on parties in power by lowering their margin.
But with all the lack of inspiration, many South Africans were still jubilant as they lined up to cast their vote. Stories shared on social media showed South Africa’s inexplicably magical election spirit was still alive for many.
People tweeted and Facebooked about efficient stations, short waiting times, and that old tingly feeling of lining up with their fellow countrymen to make their voices heard. Thousands of inked thumbs dominated various social media feeds. But others were not so lucky as reports started seeping in of voting stations that were overwhelmed by numbers.
The electoral Act allows for voters to make their mark at any voting station: for both provincial and national ballots within the voter’s province, and just nationally outside their province. But the provision proved to be a bit of a headache for the IEC, making it difficult to track where voters would go and accordingly provide enough voting materials.
“The impact of this has been to put pressure on our planning and logistics and we have received reports of some stations requiring additional materials,” IEC chair Pansy Tlakula said at a press briefing at the commission’s results operation centre on Wednesday.
The IEC said it received 260 complaints about the election by Wednesday morning, most of which had been processed.
At the last press briefing of the day at 10pm, the commission’s chief deputy chair Terry Tselane said the commission had not yet received any objections or complaints filed at the various voting stations, as these were yet to be collated.
Several reports of irregularities were difficult to confirm on Wednesday. The broad picture of how much went wrong will emerge over the next few days.
Of course there were incidents that were far more concerning than ballot papers that had run out.
Violence erupted at protest hotspots in the country, particularly Bekkersdal, which saw residents burn down an IEC tent. A heavy military presence was required to allow voting to continue.
Concerns and peace
Then there was a voting station in Alexandra that closed in the early afternoon amid allegations of vote rigging and collusion between the ANC and the IEC.
But in another hotspot voting took place without incident. Police and the army were deployed at the KwaMashu Hostel in Durban, which has been the site of several politically motivated murders in recent years. Peaceful voting in the area was a welcome surprise.
Voting in Marikana was also peaceful, but still bitter and poignant after that community’s experiences.
In KwaZulu-Natal, reports were more concerning. The Inkatha Freedom Party said in a late night statement on Wednesday that the provincial commissioner Mawethu Mosery briefed parties about an unusual uptick in people voting outside their registered districts, and ballot papers being exhausted early in the evening at certain stations and less than half of registered voters having cast their vote, according to the party. The party called for an investigation into the matter and reiterated their concern with South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) members manning stations, “when Sadtu is known to be an ANC ally”.
Meanwhile, the ANC released its own statement late on Wednesday condemning the killing of an ANC member in KwaDukuza, KwaZulu-Natal, during voting. “It is alleged that this comrade was killed while sitting at the ANC desk outside a voting station,” said the party. “We call on both the IEC and police to urgently investigate this case with a view to bringing to book those who are responsible for the killing.”
The party also cautioned against lashing out in revenge for the killing. “We also call on our members and supporters to exercise restraint and allow law enforcement agencies to exercise their responsibility,” it said.
With the best – and the worst – of the elections behind us, we’ll be playing the waiting game over the next few days as IEC officials race to put the collective will of South Africans into numbers.