It started slowly on Saturday, as it always does. But a surge on Sunday, with the traditional late-afternoon spike, allowed the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to report an “activity number” – the total number of people who visited registration stations last weekend – of just under 3.1-million.
“This is the easiest and happiest announcement I have made in this job,” said the IEC chairperson, Glen Mashinini, on Tuesday.
He was appointed in May, from his job as a special projects adviser to President Jacob Zuma, filling a post vacated by the resignation of Pansy Tlakula over a conflict-of-interest scandal involving a leasing deal. He is also having to deal with fallout over botched elections in Tlokwe.
But the numbers for the first registration drive for the local government elections – the date of which has yet to be proclaimed – stacked up nicely. New additions to the voters’ roll totalled 692 730, well below a 10th of the estimated nine million people thought eligible but unregistered, but 30% up on new registrations during a similar drive before the 2011 local government elections.
The new registrations were heavily concentrated in the major urban centres and among young people – 78.6% of those who registered for the first time were under the age of 30.
Provincial numbers pointed to fierce contests in KwaZulu-Natal, which hosts about 20% of the country’s population but accounted for 27.9% of all registration activity over the weekend.
The commission volunteered no information about reported cases of officials being threatened, registration stations left closed or opened early, and other problems. Various officials insisted the incidents had been limited in both scope and effect.
“With respect to all those incidences where we were not able to conduct activities, they were primarily not due to the electoral commission,” Mashinini said. “Where we had control, we actually executed to the best of our abilities.
A smattering of trouble doesn’t mar overall success
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) this week said it expected to report that there had been serious trouble at less than a quarter of a percent of all voter registration stations by the time all information had been processed and investigated.
The commission said its registration operations had been affected by service delivery protests not linked to the elections and by “issues relating to candidature” in some areas, but changes in demarcation had caused the most trouble.
Among the issues at registration stations reported by candidates, political parties and civic organisations were:
- Running battles between police and protesters in Masakona village in Vuwani, near Thohoyandou in Limpopo, where a change in demarcation has seen violent protests since 2015. Residents want to remain part of the municipality that includes the commercial hub of Louis Trichardt;
- Scuffles over demarcation and objections in various parts of Johannesburg and its surrounds. The most serious was at the Denver Hostel, where a demarcation change, which opposition parties described as gerrymandering, is threatening a traditional Inkatha Freedom Party ward;
- Service delivery protests in well-known hotspots, including Marikana in the North West, Pampierstad in the Northern Cape, and Mhlontlo and Ntabankulu in the Eastern Cape;
- Protests over ward changes and the councillors nominated in parts of the greater Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth areas;
- A temporary shortage of registration documents at the Nkandla station near President Jacob Zuma’s home; and
- The eviction on Sunday of election officials from the Sea Point civic centre in Cape Town, which was being prepared for a wedding. Provincial election officials and party observers almost universally reported that registration had been calmer than expected. – Phillip de Wet