Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has made its preference known at the Tlokwe by-elections underway in the Potchefstroom-based municipality.
Driving around in at least five minibuses, the group that consisted mostly of young people moved from one polling station to the other, focusing on the two wards contested by independent candidates, former Tlokwe chief whip David Kham and former fellow councillor Stone Mahlabe.
Residents of Tlokwe are electing three new municipal councillors after the ANC fired 14 of its own, accusing them of colluding with the opposition to pass a motion of no confidence on former mayor Maphetle Maphetle. He was replaced with the Democratic Alliance's (DA's) Annette Combrink.
Former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s followers, most of them clad in red EFF T-shirts, showed off their energetic selves by hanging out of minibus windows and shouting their candidates' names, some falling out of the vehicles in the process.
The minibuses, painted with the EFF slogan "Asijiki" and candidates' names, were at some point spinning provocatively at the main road's intersection. Several of them confirmed they are EFF members, removing part of the doubt about who's backing Tlokwe's independents. The ANC in the North West has been linking some independent candidates to the DA.
Voters are still trickling into polling stations, with an expectation that the numbers will increase as more voters return to their homes after work.
The most contested Ward 26 sees Mahlabe fighting to reclaim the seat he lost when the ANC fired him as a councillor. Paul Mogoshane is representing the ANC in this ward with the highest number of voters at over 5 700.
"We’re expecting a bigger turnout later this afternoon," said Zwelinzima Mkhwanazi, presiding officer at the TVS Aerial section extension six station in Sarafina, in Ikageng. His polling station expected 2 500 residents to cast their vote, but only 380 had done so by 3pm.
Mounted police are also patrolling the Ward 26 area amid fears that violent confrontations may erupt again. This is where supporters faced each other of the weekend.
In Ward 6 where the ANC’s Japhta Monaisa is facing off with the DA’s Johannes Coetzee, 359 residents had voted by 2pm.
Other candidates in this ward are Lesego Emslie Malepe of Azapo and the United Christian Democratic Party's Mawela Shadrack Dinko.
Groups of volunteers in party regalia camped outside polling stations under their party branded gazebos, with the ANC and DA dominating the spots. ANC volunteers were seen calling to voters as they approached station entrances, offering to check their names on the print-outs the volunteers had on their table.
Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) staff member Gadifele Qushekile said the commission's rules don't specify how far party volunteers should stay from the polling station.
"As long as they're outside the voting station and do not disturb us or the voters," she said.
Mkhwanazi said the biggest problems of the day so far were voters being turned back because they reported to the wrong voting station or had registered too late for this by-election. Several local women turned away from the Chris Hani Hall in Sarafina expressed unhappiness, accusing the IEC of intentionally barring them from voting.
Meanwhile North West MEC for local government and traditional affairs Manketsi Tlhape said she is ready to proclaim the date for the next by-elections in Tlokwe. Six by-elections that were scheduled for Wednesday were postponed after independent candidates for those wards were disqualified by the IEC. The Electoral Court in Bloemfontein ordered the IEC to request the MEC to postpone the by-elections in wards one, four, 11, 12 and 20.
The Electoral Court also ordered that all the disqualified candidates be allowed to register once a new date has been set.
"The next by-elections will be proclaimed as soon as the requisition from the IEC has reached my office so that all the parties involved should begin to prepare for elections as soon as possible," said Tlhape.
Polling stations in Tlokwe will remain open until 9pm. Special voting took place on Tuesday and counting is expected to be completed overnight.