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South Africa votes in sixth democratic election

By Crystal Orderson, in Cape Town
Posted on Wednesday, 8 May 2019 14:30

ANC veteran Denis Goldberg, who cast his vote today. He and Andrew Mlangeni, who also voted, are the two sole survivors of the Rivonia treason trial with Nelson Mandela. Photo: Nonceba Mhlauli

Millions of South Africans, young and old have come out in their numbers to cast their ballot in what many has described as the most hotly contested and competitive election since the country held its first democratic election in 1994.

With more than 26 million people registered to vote, parties are hoping for a large turnout for the sixth democratic election since the end of apartheid rule. There is a choice of 48 parties on the national ballot and on the provincial ballot more than 70 to choose from.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said minor glitches were reported with some voting stations not opening on time and in some cases the late delivery of some voting materials.

In a live media briefing from the IEC’s headquarters in Pretoria, the chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo, said election day got off to a “positive start” and that “adequate supplies of materials are available” but admitted some voting officials arrived late at some voting stations.

Political leaders were first off the mark to cast their ballot:

  • “This vote is like a rocket booster”, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the media after casting his ballot at Hitekani Primary School in Soweto, Gauteng. Ramaphosa said the ANC is going to “correct the bad ways of the past” and “we have learnt our lesson”. Ramaphosa said he was excited and confident: “The nation and our people are energised to cast their vote. It’s also a period of hope,” added the incumbent, who was swamped by well-wishers in Soweto.
  • The Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane also cast his ballot in Dobsonville, Soweto. He said: “As we cast our vote there is nothing more historic to express our future and vote for the future of the country. Soweto to me represents the home of where the struggle is. Now we enter into a new struggle, a struggle for jobs.”
  • The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema voted in Seshego in Polokwane. He reminded South Africans that a lot of people died for people to come out and vote. “We are here to honour those memories and we once more want to thank the ground forces of the EFF who have done everything humanly possible for the EFF to win this election. Now the waiting period starts; so we will wait and South Africans will tell us what they have decided.”
  • Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement, who voted in Pretoria, said: “What we need to avoid is not [having] one party dominating the country because that leads to corruption and that is what we have seen over the past 10 years.”
  • In the Western Cape, the former Cape Town mayor and now leader of the Good party, Patricia de Lille, said: “We are hoping for a better country and a better life for our families. It is a great day today.”

In Cape Town there was excitement all round despite some heavy rains. One voter The Africa Report spoke to said: “The responsibility for us is to ensure we are part of change in the country.” Another said: “No rain was going to stop me from voting.”

A first-time voter and University of Cape Town student, 19-year-old Leila Jacobs said she voted because her parents and elders sacrificed a lot to ensure she is able to vote: “It is really important to South Africa’s future and if I want my voice to be heard I have to make my mark.”

But it was not good news in certain parts of the country. An election official passed away in the night in the Eastern Cape, and an elderly voter died at a polling station in Tshwane. In some outlying villages of the Northwest province there was very little activity, with communities saying they are angry at the government for the slow pace of service delivery and had opted to stay away.

In another province of the Free State some areas were hit by heavy rain but there was still a high level of excitement with many young people making their mark, saying they want to be part of history and the new direction the country is taking.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi cast his ballot in the party’s heartland of KwaZulu-Natal and said he was worried about rumours of electoral fraud in the province.

  • “In this highly contested election, the likelihood of electoral fraud is a certainty,” Buthelezi said. “The IFP knows from 25 years of experience in elections and by-elections that our opponents are willing to manipulate the outcome. We have brought many such cases to the attention of the Electoral Commission of South Africa, for we believe that any vote manipulation must be reported, investigated and addressed.”

Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape had the highest number of registered voters in the country, and 55% of all registered voters were women.

Voter turnout is critical for all parties in this election. In 2014 voter turnout was 73,48% and this will be the biggest determining factor, especially for Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC. A low voter turnout spells bad news for the ANC and good news for the DA, especially in Gauteng province. The low voter turnout in areas like Soweto played a pivotal role in the opposition party winning the Johannesburg and Tshwane municipalities in 2016.

The ANC is certainly set to win yet again but it is the margin of victory that is key in the 2019 election. Various pre-election polls have varied with some giving the ANC over 62% whilst others put it at less than 50%.

South Africans will know in the next 48 hours the exact power balance in the country. All party leaders will be heading to the IEC’s nerve centre in Pretoria waiting for results to come in on Thursday and Friday.

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