Fire and rocks en route to polls

On guard: Police in Umdoni in KwaZulu-Natal had to clear the roads for voters to make their way to polling stations. (Delwyn Verasamy)

On guard: Police in Umdoni in KwaZulu-Natal had to clear the roads for voters to make their way to polling stations. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Wednesday.It’s freezing in the pitch dark as we inch our way down the narrow, potholed excuse for a road that runs down the steep hillside from Isulabasha Primary School to Stick Farm.

Progress is painfully slow.

The home-made roadblocks that local residents had been building since 11pm on Tuesday are back after a four-hour absence enforced by the army of heavily armed police who had been brought in to clear the road so that voting could take place at the two polling stations in the district.

Locals, fed up with the state of the roads and the failure of the Umdoni local municipality and the Ugu district municipality to provide water to part of Dududu,which falls under both, were forced to retreat.

With the fall of darkness they’ve returned and started to blockade the road again.

We take a corner.
Slowly.

There’s a pile of rocks across the road, blocking progress. This could turn bad. Earlier in the day, the cops who were clearing the blockades had to dodge rocks being rolled down the hillside while they worked.

The two youngsters we’ve given a lift to jump out to clear the way. We don’t stop them: there’s way less chance of their neighbours, who are waiting in the darkness, stoning them than us.

We make it through.

Around the next corner, a green plastic JoJo tank has been smashed and set on fire on the shoulder of the road. The flames have already consumed about half of it. The light from the fire illuminates three police vans parked across the narrow road. Their occupants are nowhere to be seen.

We keep going, past Stick Farm, where the polling station didn’t open at all.

The road is littered with rocks, but there’s enough space to pick our way through without having to stop again. Pretty soon we’re passing the RDP houses at Sonti Farm and out of danger and breathing normally.

It’s been a tough end to a very different election day.

Things started in a pretty chilled fashion, covering voting at the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban, where the church outreach programme had organised for 200 homeless people to vote. Hurley was a top timer, a real subversive in a cassock who had a soft spot for street people. There’s a picture on my wall of him leading a march in 1989 past the Grey Street mosque in his Toyota Cressida.

Respect.

The rest of the election day is not so chilled for photographer Delwyn Verasamy and myself.

The plan to spend the afternoon at Ward 88, where the ANC councillor, S’bu Maphumulo, was assassinated last year and monitor voting patterns takes one in the head. There’s no way everything for the paper can be filed on Thursday, so it’s Plan B.

We bolt out of the Independent Electoral Commission’s operations centre, where we’ve come for a briefing, and hit the road.

Plan B entails getting to one of the 14 polling stations in the province where voting hasn’t started, get pictures and interviews and file the lot by 8pm. Most are in the southern part of the metro — around KwaMakhutha, Umbumbulu and Adams Mission — and at Umdoni and further down the coast at Umzumbe.

We’re dead men. It’s already 1.30pm.

We head south. There’s evidence of protests everywhere, but at every polling station, it’s business as usual. We speed from KwaMakhutha to Ilovu to Umbumbulu to Adams. Hours pass. Nothing.

We start to panic, bail on the metro and head for Umdoni. It’s dark by the time we eventually find Stick Farm. We’re sick with anxiety. Then we see the barricades, the cop vans, the charred trees on the roadside.

We’re back in the game.

Earlier in the day, I had cast my vote at the Denis Hurley Centre.

It was cool, way cooler than the last two elections, when I voted at Ntolwane Primary School in Nxamalala, former president Jacob Zuma’s polling station.

There was something fresh — liberating actually — about not having to cover Zuma voting; about not having to stand around for hours waiting for him to eventually turn up, about not being shoved around by uBaba’s security.

The only good thing about voting at Ntolwane was having the pleasure of casting what was undoubtedly the only vote for the then Workers and Socialist Party north of the Thukela River in the same box that Zuma’s vote was in.

I wonder how uBaba voted this time, given his social media flirtation with Black Label First before Wednesday and the latest claims by one of the founders of the African Transformation Movement that Zuma and Ace Magashule, the ANC secretary general, were behind the party.

BLF first ballot, ATM second ballot? Or ATM first ballot, BLF second ballot? Perhaps uBaba double-crossed both of them and voted for the EFF?

Perhaps.

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