Voters brave cold to make their mark

Cheerful voters braved a cold snap in South Africa’s hotly contested fourth post-apartheid elections on Wednesday, with KwaZulu-Natal the only province to report major problems.

“A carnival mood is prevailing across the country,” said chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula, adding that more than 98% of the 19 726 voting stations countrywide opened on time at 7am.

But, in KwaZulu-Natal—where thousands were killed in political clashes in the run-up to the 1994 elections—an electoral officer at the IFP stronghold of Ulundi was charged with fraud after marked ballot papers were found at a polling station.

Two boxes, containing 100 completed ballot papers, were found at a hall in Ulundi, an incident the African National Congress—the Inkatha Freedom Party’s main political rival—condemned as “shocking”.

Elsewhere, voters, unfazed by the first winter cold, turned up in their droves. President Kgalema Motlanthe was among the first to cast his vote and urged South Africans to participate.

“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.

Twenty-three million South Africans are registered to vote.

Described as the most exciting elections since the advent of democracy in 1994, April 22 would test the strength of the ANC after the formation of the Congress of the People.
It was co-founded by sympathisers of axed president Thabo Mbeki, who made a rare public appearance since his dismissal last September to cast his vote.

Mbeki was in a jovial mood on his arrival at a polling booth in Parktown, Johannesburg, laughing when a brave reporter asked him who he had voted for.

“I am sure that is unconstitutional, this is a secret ballot,” said Mbeki, as photographers jostled to get a picture of the former president.

“I think the future of our country depends in part on people voting according to their conscience,” he added.

Cope leaders Mosiuoa Lekota and Mvume Dandala cast their votes in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, urging people to “vote for hope”, Cope’s campaign slogan.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who voted in Rondebosch, Cape Town, said she was confident her party would win in the Western Cape.

She used the opportunity to criticise ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who was expected to vote at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, later in the morning.

“He [Zuma] is a one-man Constitution-wrecking machine. What he says and what he does are two different things,” said Zille, who has vowed to fight crime and corruption—concerns which did not escape South Africans on election day.

A Free State electoral officer was shot in the leg at about 4.15am on Wednesday at a voting station near Namahadi. Police spokesperson Superintendent Sam Makhele said the man was robbed of his cellphone and some cash.

In the North West, police are investigating a case of apparent election fraud after a voter discovered that a political party on a ballot sheet had already been marked.

Independent Electoral Commission chairperson Brigalia Bam seemed mainly concerned about the cold weather, especially in the Eastern Cape.

“Especially in Kokstad ... it is so cold, those poor people, but at least there is no flooding,” said Bam.

However, many were unperturbed by their weather woes, with residents of Dysseldorp outside Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape, saying the cold wind they had to brave was nothing compared to what they had seen on television, with voters apparently queuing in the rain elsewhere in the country.

Dysseldorp supporters of the Independent Democrats were dancing and singing, “Wie’s jou baas? Wie is jou baas? [Who’ your boss?]”
while others looked on, enjoying the festive mood.

At the Diepsloot informal settlement in Johannesburg, Zimbabwean food seller Grace Ncube (27) said she envied South Africans.

“I wish I was a South African,” she said.

“I can tell you, I envy the South Africans because elections here have always come and gone smoothly. Life is good in South Africa.”

In the Northern Cape, residents of the white Afrikaner enclave Orania were planning to have a relaxed day with a pancakes and a braai.

About 80 out of 422 registered voters had visited the voting station by 10am.

“There is some coffee and pancakes,” said chief executive of the Orania Movement, Frans de Klerk.

“We might have a braai and some festivities,” he added. - Sapa

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