SA at the polls: A nation of procrastinators

South Africans proved themselves a nation of procrastinators, with 20 765 would-be voters flooding home affairs offices across the country to pick up their IDs on the day of local government elections, according to Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

This gave credence to the department’s decision to stay open on the weekend preceding the election and on election day itself.

A further 3 318 voters were given temporary IDs on Wednesday — most of whom said they had just misplaced their IDs, but still wanted to vote.

It’s past midnight at the IEC Election Centre, but DA leader Helen Zille joined us for a quick chat about her experience of and thoughts on how election day went.

Limpopo had the largest number of culprits — with 4 125 people picking up their IDs at the last moment — followed by 3 569 latecomers in Gauteng.

By 11am, 58% of the votes had been counted, according to Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Dr Brigalia Bam, who spoke to the media at the commission’s results centre in Pretoria.

Dlamini-Zuma, at the centre in her official capacity, showed her true colours by wearing a resplendent green and yellow turban.

She kept her comments more neutral, however, saying: “The result of the political parties is in the voters’ hands. The political parties will reap what they have sown.”

Bam gave her a glowing welcome: “She [Dlamini-Zuma] is very special to us,” she told reporters.

The minister is responsible for ensuring the IEC’s budget is approved by Parliament. It cost the IEC R1,2-billion to host these elections, a marked-saving in real terms over previous elections.

Dlamini-Zuma elicited wry grins as she recounted the excuses of some would-be voters asking for new IDs — including having just misplaced it on the way to the voting station. She acknowledged that relaxing the rules — for instance by allowing citizens to apply for a temporary ID but not a permanent one, as is normally the requirement — was a “double-edged sword”.

“If what stands between a person and their vote is their ID, even if they’ve lost it, we feel it’s the right thing to give them an ID so they can exercise their right — and their responsibility — to vote.”

Increasing quality
The IEC, a Chapter Nine institution funded by and accountable to Parliament, has been credited with running free and fair elections of increasingly quality since the first democratic elections in 1994.

But the efficient organisation has had to work hand-in-hand with government’s traditional trouble child — the department of home affairs — which under Dlamini-Zuma’s predecessor, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, used to be one of the worst-performing government departments.

Dlamini-Zuma, however, has turned the department around, making the IEC’s life a lot easier in the process.

Dlamini-Zuma’s performance was rated as “B” in the Mail & Guardian‘s Cabinet report card for 2010. Since taking over as minister in 2009, Dlamini-Zuma has been diligently chipping away at a mountain of corruption, maladministration and Kafkaesque bureaucracy that is the department of home affairs, the M&G reported at the time.

The Mail & Guardian travelled around Johannesburg on election day to find out how people felt about casting their vote. Service delivery seemed to be the main concern for most voters, followed closely by housing and job creation: South Africa wants results.

The waiting time for South Africans seeking identity documents has been reduced to two weeks and there is a more modern, user-friendly interface with clients. The approval of study, work and business permit applications has also been centralised, reducing turnaround times.

But widespread corruption remains, said the M&G‘s report card, underscoring the need for tougher security systems. The department still suffers from a severe IT skills shortage and the ID smart-card system has yet to be implemented.

For exclusively M&G articles and multimedia on the local government elections 2011 click here:

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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