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Special votes begin as South Africa revs up for election day

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Monday, 6 May 2019 17:29

A quarter century on from South Africa's first democratic election, voters will head to the polls on Wednesday. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

It has been described as the most contested vote since South Africa's first democratic election in 1994.

After weeks of campaigning across the country by several parties – there are in fact 48 political parties on the national ballot papers – politicians and volunteers are winding down campaigns ahead of the poll on Wednesday, 8 May.

It is all systems go for South Africa’s 6th democratic election according to the country’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

“As we celebrate South Africa’s 25th anniversary of our first democratic elections, the Electoral Commission calls on all registered voters to participate peacefully and patiently,” the IEC said at its pre-election briefing in Pretoria.

On Monday close to 23,000 voting stations opened for special voting (for those who cannot get to the polls on 8 May), which be held over the next two days.

South Africa’s election in numbers:

  • 26.7 million registered voters
  • 22,924 voting stations
  • The IEC will pitch 1,059 tents where no suitable permanent structures are available
  • 774,094 special votes over the next 2 days (6/7 May)
  • 60 million ballot papers printed
  • 76 political parties to choose from
  • On the national ballot, there are 48 parties to choose from; a total of 38 parties are contesting the elections in a provincial manner only
  • 189,000 IEC officials overseeing the election
  • 51,306 police officers to be deployed with the help of 3,504 police reservists

All special votes cast, along with all sensitive materials, including ballot papers, will be transported and stored overnight at secure storage locations before being taken back to the voting station on election day.

The IEC closes at 9pm on Wednesday. Counting will begin immediately at each voting station, conducted by election officials and witnessed by party agents and observers.

Key campaign messages:

The major political parties including the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) held their final political rallies attracting thousands of party faithful.

  • The ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa told more than 70,000 supporters that the party is on a path of renewal, jobs and progress: “We choose hope over despair; renewal over stagnation and growth over decline.” Ramaphosa said voters also told him that they were “frustrated at the slow rate of economic growth and the grinding effects of poverty and unemployment”. Dealing with corruption and corrupt elements is a main focus of his campaign. Ramaphosa said he was “determined that those found guilty of corruption or involvement in state capture will not be allowed to occupy positions of responsibility, either in the ANC, in parliament or in government”.
  • The Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane told supporters that he is angry. “I am angry that the very people who were elected to lead us ended up stealing from us. And what’s most offensive is that they stole from the poor. They took the money that was meant to make life liveable for our most vulnerable citizens, and stuck it in their pockets.” Maimane added that The ANC were once the leaders in the struggle for freedom, but today they stand directly in the way of freedom for millions of South Africans.
  • The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema took a swipe at the ANC and the DA. “The ANC is shaking in all of the provinces. Because of what our comrades are. They are shaking ME and Natal are showing us flames, with its unexpected growth. We’re proud of fighters in the Western Cape. The racist DA are shaking there, too.” Malema also promised an increase in the current social grant: “We want to double the money for the elderly and that of children that receive social grants. We want a proper crèche where there is a settlement. We want a clinic that operates 24-hours. We want free education.”

What is at stake for the ANC?

The ANC has ruled for 25 years and, while there is no question that it will win, it is the percentage win that will influence the party’s future. Opinion polls have varied in their assessment of support for the ANC from below 50% to over 60%. The ANC won 62% in the last national elections in 2014, but had its worst-performing election result in the local government election in 2016, when it lost control of the country’s economic heartland Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria, and Nelson Mandela Bay metro in the Eastern Cape.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is desperate for an overwhelming win to have a strong mandate to create jobs and bring an end to rampant corruption. But some voters are not convinced by this, worrying about the Ace Magashule effect and those within the ANC who still oppose the Ramaphosa presidency. Urgent reform will rest on the margin of victory for Ramaphosa. A low margin would give more power to people like Magashule. South Africans will have some idea of the future Cyril Ramaphosa presidency come Thursday.

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