The ululating coursed through the line of about 100 voters at the Ntolweni Primary School like a set of aural dominoes as African National Congress president Jacob Zuma stepped out of his 4×4 to cast his vote on Wednesday.
The ululating swiftly changed to his trademark Umshini Wami as Zuma presented himself to Mdumseni Gwala, the IEC’s presiding officer and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, an election observer, at Nxamalala outside the Nkandla village at about 11.33am on Wednesday.
The physical act of voting — mundane at the best of times — was over in a flash. His visit to the polling booth was more protracted than others as cameramen and photographers jostled and begged the future president to pose in front of the provincal and national ballot boxes. Zuma, looking relaxed and confident, agreed.
When he emerged — his thumb blackened — it was to a throng of locals chanting, “Zuma! Zuma! Zuma!”
The crowd and the horde of cameramen followed his every step back to the black VIP vehicle before it disappeared in a cloud of exhaust fumes to his homestead nestling on an opposite hill.
Left behind in this picturesque part of northern KwaZulu-Natal were locals whose ecstatic faces appeared to spell out their dreams and hopes.
‘He knows what our problems are’
Old women and men — as gnarled as their walking sticks — and buxom young women who had come early to cast their votes, spent three hours attempting to catch the attention of the television cameras — or perhaps the next state president?
“This is what I’ve been waiting for all day to see him: my president,” said teacher Ntombi Zwane (32).
“He is from here, and he knows what our problems are and what we need, he will deliver more to us,” she added.
With the IFP running 11 of the 14 wards which make up Nkandla District — Zuma’s home patch — the direction in which votes will go will prove the full extent of Zuma’s charismatic pull. It will also be a telling reflection of how decisive the ANC’s well oiled campaign has been in making breakthrough in traditionally strong IFP areas.
There are three polling stations in Nkandla, with 1 325 people registered at Ntolweni. With the elderly starting things off punctually at 7am, the lines quietened before picking up again at about 10am. Presiding officer Gwala said the voting was going smoothly and he expected a “full house” of voters.
Meanwhile, IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam said there had been a number of irregularities.
In Nkandla, an area manager lost all her voting material including ballot papers, Bam said at a media briefing on the progress of the country’s fourth democratic election.
Also in Nkandla, about 50 marked ballot papers were found.
In Ulundi 100 marked ballot papers were found and the presiding officer, who confessed to police, was arrested and due to appear in court on Thursday.
In Gauteng there was not much to report except “very, very long queues”, said Bam.
“So long that in some areas they ran short of ballot papers … papers have been sent,” she said.
In the North West ballot boxes and ink, to mark one’s finger after voting, went missing while two presiding officers were injured in a car accident.
In Brits, a Democratic Alliance official was handed a marked ballot paper.
The presiding officer was fired, Bam said.
A presiding officer was also found acting in a “partisan manner” in Limpopo, she said, while there were challenges transporting voting material to mountainous areas of the province.
Voting in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Northern Cape proceeded smoothly.
A presiding officer was shot in the Free State during a robbery, Bam said, adding it was not a politically-motivated shooting.
Voting in Mpumalanga was also going off smoothly.
“The best news … is there has been no intimidation, no threats and no violence been reported,” she said.
New issues, challenges
“We are entering a post-liberation era. People are talking about new issues and challenges and there’s also a new generation that’s not attached to the liberation struggle,” said independent political analyst David Monyae.
“I voted for the ANC out of loyalty because my father was active in the struggle but I’m not satisfied with what they’ve done. People expected jobs, and to be comfortable but they are still living in shacks,” said Margaret Nkone (57).
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in Zuma but we hope he will do a better job,” she complained in Soweto.
Many analysts believe the ANC will win between 60% and 66% of the vote, compared to nearly 70% in 2004.
“The ANC is slightly more likely to lose its two-thirds parliamentary majority than to retain it,” said Control Risks consultancy, putting the chances at 55% versus 40%.
But as South Africa heads towards its first recession in 17 years, its mines and factories hard hit by the global downturn, Zuma’s room for policy change is limited. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a market favourite, is expected to stay for now.
“Our economy won’t become ideological, it will stay rational,” Manuel told Italy’s Il Sole 24 Ore newspaper.
The Congress of the People (Cope), has some support among the growing black middle class, but has struggled to win over the poor.
Presidential candidate Mvume Dandala said the new party was still optimistic it could bring change.
“It is a baby with teeth. We can bite and I do believe the people of South Africa have heard our message,” he said.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance, resurgent under new leader Helen Zille, also hopes to boost its presence in Parliament and has campaigned under a “Stop Zuma” slogan, with an anti-corruption message.
“In the first years of our freedom most people would have tended to vote ANC, now it is no longer quite so straight forward,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate who has been critical of Zuma.
“People are asking questions, which is a good thing. I mean that is what democracy is.”