MPs grill police on 'major risk' posed by load-shedding on election day

19 March 2019 - 20:24 By Andisiwe Makinana
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MPs called on the police to make sure that voting stations are equipped with generators.
MPs called on the police to make sure that voting stations are equipped with generators.

Keeping the lights burning on election day was at the top of parliamentarians' minds when police appeared before a portfolio committee to talk about their preparations for the May 8 elections.

MPs wanted assurance that in the event of a blackout or load-shedding on May 8, generators will kick in at all of the 22,925 voting stations across the country to ensure that there is no disruption to voting.

“We do know there is some uncertainty over electricity failures. I don't know where that lies in terms of sourcing, but I just know the SAPS is key to free and fair elections," said ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane.

“In terms of the 23,000 voting stations, there is some reassurance that must happen that all of them may well have a challenge later on that day, before the voting stations close.”

Ramatlakane called on the police and other stakeholders to make sure that they source generators as a backup plan for May 8 to ensure capacity would be readily available in the event that Eskom sheds power that day.

“It's going to be a requirement,” he said, noting that power cuts were “a major risk for the elections” as they may lead to the disruption of voting at a particular time.

The police were appearing before the police portfolio committee to talk about their plans to ensure safe and secure elections - but MPs kept seeking assurance about contingency plans amid the rolling blackouts.

In a prepared presentation, the police acknowledged that power cuts during the elections were a threat. They said they had established committees with Eskom executives that looked at contingency measures to mitigate the threat of blackouts.

Fannie Masemola, the deputy commissioner responsible for policing, assured MPs that in terms of a security threat, the country was quite stable. He added that intelligence services were continuously updating the team working on election planning.

“Of course there are some threats related to labour unions and labour strikes, which we are looking at. One of them is the issue around Eskom, which poses a threat,” he said.

Masemola said that the national joint operations and intelligence structure - which is working on the safety plan for elections - had established a committee led by a senior Eskom executive and a senior police official.

While noting that it is the responsibility of the IEC and Eskom, committee chairperson Francois Beukman was the first to ask about “the issue of ensuring there is availability of electricity”.

“What is the plan there? Is there a backup plan? Of course that will influence the effectiveness of the IEC and the elections - and the ability of SAPS to deal with the issues,” he said.

“Are there generators - for instance, in all the voting stations or the major counting centres - in case there is stage 4 load-shedding?"

The EFF's Phillip Mhlongo raised concerns about vote-rigging in the event of a blackout. “It is not theoretical that some IEC officials are corrupt ... They know that this time electricity will go out and they will rig the votes," he said.

Mhlongo also wanted to know whether all voting stations would be supplied with generators. “It's no longer a theory that electricity in this country can go off any time,” he said.

The DA's Dianne Kohler Barnard mentioned that in previous elections, despite the country not having electricity problems like it did now, there were still issues at some voting stations. She said the police only had small torches, not larger lamps.

“We are talking generators and we are talking many, many, many. I don't think you can take chances with this election in that regard,” she said, urging the police to make sure that alternatives were in place.

Police bosses said that while the IEC had deployed generators at a number of voting stations in previous elections, Eskom does not have enough generators for all 22,925 stations. They promised to work on ensuring that there is sufficient capacity on the day.

The police said that according to their assessments, the main threat to the elections would be social unrest, as communities continue to demand basic services, job opportunities and a more effective fight against crime.

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