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22 Apr 2009 16:44
Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Dr Brigalia Bam looked calm and pleased as she delivered an update to the media at lunch on Wednesday.
“The good news is that all 19 726 polling stations opened on time and are operating well, there are no reports of threats, intimidation ...
everything is peaceful, tranquil and harmonious,” she said.
Bam went on to give the bad news: “There have been a few criminal challenges, this has never happened before.”
Bam reported cases from all the provinces.
In Ulundi a presiding officer was found with a complete book of marked provincial and national ballot papers. Police were called and she allegedly admitted wrong doing. She was arrested and will appear in court on Thursday on charges of fraud.
In Pongola a presiding office was knocked down by a car and killed.
Bam said Gauteng had good reports. “All stations are functioning properly, there are long queues and some polling stations are experiencing shortages of ballot papers, but these problems are being addressed,” she explained.
North West not looking so good
Things were not looking as good in North West. Two IEC officials are in hospital in a critical condition after they were involved in a car accident.
But “this incident was not politically related,” said IEC chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula. A shortage of indelible ink and ballot boxes was also being experienced in this province.
In Madibeng district outside Brits, a Democratic Alliance (DA) official claimed he was given a ballot paper already marked for the African National Congress (ANC) and after an investigation, the presiding officer was dismissed.
In Limpopo challenges include the dismissal of another presiding officer found to be acting in a partisan manner in violation of IEC code of conduct.
Other stumbling blocks there include the transportation of voting material to mountainous areas.
Free State also had challenges with another presiding officer, who landed up in hospital after being shot in the leg during a robbery at the QwaQwa polling station early this morning.
In Mpumalanaga and the Western Cape things seemed to be running smoothly, although by Wednesday evening the Western Cape’s electoral officer, Courtney Sampson, said a last-minute concession allowing people to vote at the polling station of their choice was causing major headaches. “It really is posing problems,” Sampson said.
He was speaking after the provincial ANC called on the IEC to “minimise” long queues on the Cape Flats.
“The ANC is concerned that these long queues may result in some people turning away and not casting their votes,” the party said in a statement.
Tlakula said although there were some challenges, they were on top of things and the public should not be concerned.
“We should not exaggerate all this ... the ballot papers that were lost were not found by mistake because we have taken measures to insure we can detect any irregularities. So what happened in Mpumalanga earlier with 1 000 ballot papers being found and what happened in Inkandla today is just a drop in the ocean.”
“Stations are buzzing with voters exercising their right to vote, there is a carnival mood unveiling around the country,” said Bam proudly.
Gauteng chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said election officials were in talks with political parties about a safe process to empty the boxes.
Provincial electoral commissioner Terry Tselane added that voting hours in Gauteng would not be extended beyond the poll closing time of 9pm but if voters were still in queues by 9pm, they would not be turned away.
“It is my opinion that by 9pm every registered voter would have voted,” he said.
High turnout predicted
Election officials earlier in the week predicted a very high turnout, with voters seeming to heed President Kgalema Motlanthe’s call to turn out in their droves.
“You can’t improve any situation by keeping away ... It’s like missing the off-ramp and five years is a very long time,” said Motlanthe, who voted in Pretoria, where long queues were reported across the city.
The stars of the elections were Jacob Zuma and South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, who both received Hollywood-style welcomes at voting stations.
“When I grew up, I did not know that this day would come,” said Zuma.
“This makes me feel great and it’s a feeling far different from the one that we had under the apartheid government.”
Journalists struggled to hear Zuma, amid pushing and shoving, above the screaming of his supporters who were trying to touch him.
Mandela cast his vote without a word, walking into a scene resembling a Hollywood paparazzi scramble as hundreds of photographers and journalists competed with voters waving cellphone cameras for a picture.
Wednesday will test the strength of the ANC and the impact of a new breakaway party, Congress of the People (Cope), on the political landscape.
Mbeki was in a jovial mood when he cast his vote in Parktown, Johannesburg, laughing when a brave reporter asked him who he had voted for.
“I am sure that [question] is unconstitutional, this is a secret ballot,” said Mbeki, as he was crowded by cameras.
“I think the future of our country depends in part on people voting according to their conscience,” he added.
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