/ 29 May 2024

D-day for political parties as South Africans decide who will govern

South African Elections
Speaking at the national election results centre on Tuesday evening, IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said there had been arrests in Mpumalanga related to the elections, with two people detained for interfering with IEC material. File photo

Millions of South Africans are expected to descend on thousands of voting stations across the country on Wednesday to cast their ballots in what has been deemed the most significant general election since 1994, in which the ANC could lose its majority for the first time.

In what could be a precursor to the main voting day on Wednesday, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) grappled with many logistical problems during the two days of special voting on Monday and Tuesday.

The IEC said voting stations and home visits totalled 22 626 on the two days, with 937 144 special voters being processed. The commission said this figure was much higher than in previous elections, and lauded the diligence of electoral staff who visited voters at residences and places of confinement.

But some opposition party members who flocked to different voting station sites raised complaints about the credibility of the elections after unconfirmed reports that the police had delivered ballots to some voting stations in KwaZulu-Natal, in contravention of electoral rules. 

There have been several court applications in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s inclusion on the ballot as well as his being on a list of candidates contesting for a spot in the National Assembly became a point of contention between the IEC and his uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, leading to a challenge which escalated to the constitutional court. 

Zuma, who had won an appeal to have his name included as a candidate for the MK party at the electoral court, had this decision overturned by the apex court just days before the elections. 

Analysis by private security company Fidelity pointed to a possible security threat in KwaZulu-Natal, following a similar notice by banking group FirstRand, News24 reported. A threat analysis by the police intelligence that circulated on social media in the days leading to the elections also advised of a possible threat to the elections in the province.

The notice said police were working with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), crime intelligence and private security companies to thwart possible violence, both on election day and after the 29 May polls.

In a statement, the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa said he had informed the National Assembly that 2 828 SANDF members would be deployed for service in cooperation with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to prevent and combat crime as well as to maintain and preserve law and order during the elections.

Although this move by Ramaphosa is not unique, the July 2021 unrest after Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt of court has raised a higher level of concern for the security cluster which was found sleeping during the violence and looting three years ago.

Ramaphosa — who addressed the nation on Sunday in what many said was a political speech made under the guise of that of a state president —  will come under legal scrutiny after the Democratic Alliance filed a suit with the electoral court arguing that he used his position in government to abuse state resources for campaigning. 

The MK party has also signalled that it would challenge the legality of Ramaphosa’s address that was aired by all news channels including public broadcaster SABC. 

Speaking at the national election results centre on Tuesday evening, IEC chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said there had been arrests in Mpumalanga related to the elections, with two people detained for interfering with IEC material. 

He said there was a “clear orchestration to undermine the credibility of the outcome” of the elections, as well as an endeavour on social media to tarnish the IEC’s credibility.

Mamabolo said the IEC was counting on a huge turnout on Wednesday, adding that “anything above what was achieved in 2019 will be satisfactory”. 

“I’m sure if we hit the 70% mark I’ll be due a bonus,” he said. 

This is the figure that the ANC has been working towards to ensure an outright majority. 

The Mail & Guardian has previously quoted ANC insiders as saying that, in a change to its strategy, the ruling party was aiming to get 2.6 million votes in Gauteng, which would translate to a 54% to 55% of the vote share. This would be achieved with a voter turnout of about70%, added the insiders, who did not want to be named.

“There are 6.5 million registered voters in the province. The 2.6 million votes will be mainly received from our strongholds which is why there has been a more targeted focus in the township areas of Gauteng these past weeks,” one said. 

A member of the ANC’s national executive committee deployed in the province, added that the party’s internal research suggested that, at minimum, it would receive 2.2 million votes in Gauteng.

“If the turnout is lower than 70%, which we think is a possibility, our research suggests we are likely to receive 52%,” they said, adding that this number would be boosted in areas such as Soweto, Katlehong, Thembisa, Mamelodi, Kagiso and Sedibeng.

Last week, DA federal council chair Helen Zille told the M&G that should the party and its coalition partners secure the 50% plus one needed to govern the country, that meant its leader, John Steenhuisen, “becomes president”.

The DA has been counting on the ANC dipping below 50% for its Multi-Party Charter agreement with several other parties, including the Inkatha Freedom Party and the Freedom Front Plus, to emerge as the coalition pact to govern the country. 

Ahead of its Tshela Thupa rally on Saturday, Economic Freedom Fighters(EFF) leader Julius Malema appeared to be conceding to a loss at the polls when he told the media that he would accept the outcome of the 29 May elections, a position he has never before held. 

“We will accept the willingness of the voice of the people of SA. Whatever the outcome, we will not have a query because we campaigned and no one stopped us, we spoke to our people and no one stopped us,” he said.

The EFF is aiming to remove the DA as the official opposition and to gain one million votes in Gauteng and another million in KwaZulu-Natal. It wants to gain enough votes to leverage for positions in coalitions. The DA has said it has no interest in going into a coalition with the EFF.