Although dubbed as “super-Wednesday”, today’s by-elections have had a poor start.
Voter turnout has been low in areas such as Evaton in the Vaal district and the surrounding areas.
The elections are taking place in 95 wards across 55 municipalities in all of South Africa’s provinces. Voting is taking place in 455 centres, including schools, churches, community halls and creches.
Overall, there are more than 610 000 registered voters. But if previous elections and by-election turnout are anything to go by, the actual number of voters could be much lower than 40 %.
By-elections take place in a ward within a municipality. They happen in between general municipal local elections, which take place every five years.
According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) website, by-elections should take place within 90 days after a municipal ward council seat becomes vacant due to death, expulsion or resignation of a ward councillor. But because of Covid-19, by-elections could not be held within the stipulated 90 days.
These elections are the first to be held since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown. Chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo says that the by-elections being held today are a “catch-up” of all by-elections postponed between March and September. Elections could not take place because of the hard lockdown implemented to protect people’s lives.
The leading cause for the by-elections is death. There are 47 wards in which a councillor has died; five councillors have been expelled by an MEC; and councillors resigned in 23 wards.
A glimpse at each province shows that the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape each have more than 10 wards taking part in the election; the Free State and Limpopo have only four each.
The ANC, which has been rocked by secretary general Ace Magashule’s warrant of arrest this week, has the highest number of wards it wants to retain. The Democratic Alliance has 29 wards it currently holds — until midday on Thursday, when the IEC is expected to release the results.
The Inkatha Freedom Party has four wards; the National Freedom Party and United Front of Civics have one each.