MILLIONS of South Africans are currently casting their vote in presidential and parliamentary elections despite incidents of protest action aimed at disrupting the process in what is widely seen as a pivotal election after years of corruption scandals that have plagued the “rainbow nation”.
Some 26.8 million voters are registered to cast ballots at 22 925 polling stations. Polls opened at 7am and will close at 9pm.
Early results are expected to emerge on Thursday while the official winner will be declared on Saturday. The party that wins most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on May 25.
During his midday address, IEC chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo, faced a barrage of questions, many of which centred on various disruptions which had embattled voting stations across the country on Election Day.
Mamabolo issued a fierce warning to those hoping to disturb the day’s progress. The chief electoral officer added that, in spite of isolated incidents, no voting stations had been forced to close indefinitely. Mamabolo said:
“Protest action, yes. In areas like Dinokeng, there is on-going protest action, however, it has not yet affected operations to the point where we have had to close.”
Mamabolo added that the South African Police Service (SAPS) was consistently monitoring other areas in Gauteng, including Kagiso, west of Johannesburg. Hotspots flared up in KwaZulu-Natal earlier on Wednesday morning; the IEC, together with SAPS, are in the process of securing the integrity of a number of voting stations in the province.
The IEC’s chief electoral officer lauded SAPS officials for their diligence and dedication on Election Day, saying:
“The South African police are doing all they can to ensure that those protests are stopped and that those involved, who are impeding people’s rights to cast their ballots, are investigated and arraigned for their behaviour. It’s not such that it has led to a point where stations have had to close.”
Fierce protests also gripped the small town of Holpan in the Northern Cape. The local voting station, about 50 kilometres north of Kimberley, was plunged into chaos earlier on Wednesday when disgruntled residents intimidated prospective voters and electoral officials. Police were deployed to the scene to establish calm.
Wednesday’s vote comes 25 years after the end of apartheid. But despite the demise of the system of racial discrimination, the country remains divided by economic inequality.
While dozens of parties are competing, the main contenders are the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Under South Africa’s electoral system, citizens do not vote directly for the president, but a vote for the ANC is essentially a vote for Ramaphosa.