South Africans vote with vigour as impressive turnout is predicted

29 May 2024 - 23:26
By Andisiwe Makinana
Voters braved the long queue at the voting station at  Kuyga Primary school in Nelson Mandela Bay to vote on May 29 2024.
Image: Werner Hills Voters braved the long queue at the voting station at Kuyga Primary school in Nelson Mandela Bay to vote on May 29 2024.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is expecting the voter turnout for the national and provincial elections on Wednesday to surpass the 66% achieved in May 2019.

“Evidently we are in for a higher turnout than we had in 2019, which is why it is the intention of the commission to ensure every voter in the queue is given an opportunity to record their political choice,” said chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo.

Mamabolo was addressing journalists at the IEC’s results operation centre in Midrand shortly before the scheduled closing time for voting stations at 9pm.

As he spoke, people continued to stand in snaking queues around the country in the dark and chilly weather.

He confirmed in the previous two hours of voting and despite nearing the end of the voting period many South African voters were still casting their ballots in parts of the country.

Mamabolo said they were experiencing a late surge and were processing a large number of voters in some areas, in particular the metropolitan areas in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The commission had to bring in extra staff — counting officials who were schedule to start counting later in the evening, were called in to assist with voting which was delayed in some parts.

“We are pleased that our efforts are beginning to yield results with the length of the queues beginning to reduce,” he said.

The commission was also pleased to report that most glitches reported earlier in the day had been overcome, allowing officials to service voters timeously.

The staff of the commission and police would remain at voting stations to ensure every voter is given their ballot and their safety is protected.

Mamabolo said the commission was pleased with the high turnout.

He wouldn’t commit to a figure, saying only the turnout will “probably be well beyond the 66% we had in 2019”.

“Is turnout the result of the work of the commission or of political parties?” he was asked.

“It’s the confluence of two,” he said. “The commission has done its job in so far as popularising these elections and giving voter education, but political parties have also worked hard during the campaign to mobilise their supporters, to mobilise all South Africans for participation, which is why we have this great turnout.”

He rejected an accusation by EFF leader Julius Malema that the delays were deliberate.

Malema, who waited four hours to vote at Mponagele Lower Primary School, claimed the delays were deliberate and raised suspicion that plans were afoot to extend voting by a day.

Mamabolo said the commission wanted to assist everyone in the queue to cast their ballot. There was no plan for a second day of voting.

“We have never entertained such a plan. Voting will continue until everybody in the queue is given an opportunity to vote.

Mamabolo expected the results announcement to be slightly delayed.

“It’s tough to call given the big turnout we are dealing with. In elections past we would get the first results about 1am, On this occasion it may take slightly longer because we are counting three ballots instead of two and we are counting more ballots in terms of voter turnout.

“It’s going to be slightly later than usual.”

But the commission doesn’t intent to take the whole seven days provided for in law and keep the country in suspense.

“At a reasonable opportunity the commission will announce the outcome of the elections, balancing two imperatives — accuracy in recording the results and speed, because for as long as you don’t announce the results the country is in a politically tenuous situation as the markets also react to that.”

Among the factors that contributed to delays was the failure of the voter management devices to operate.

Mamabolo said the technical glitches around these devices wouldn’t have disenfranchised affected voters as hard copies of the voters’ roll were used when the machines failed.

He suspected the infrastructure, software or bandwidth and traffic to be among the factors that possibly affected the performance of the devices.

“It is an important part of the voting process but it is not a legal requirement. The legal requirement remains the voters’ roll and all voting stations were provided with a voters’ roll. So, as soon as we experience those difficulties, we advise the presiding officers to revert to the use of the voters roll which is a legal requirement competent for voting.”

The commission also had to contend with voters who showed up at voting stations where they were not registered to vote. This is despite a new provision in the law that only allows a voter to vote at the station where they were registered unless they had applied for what is known as the section 24 (a) notification.

The changes was introduced after suspicions in 2019 that some voters were double-dipping by trying to vote at more than one voting station.

Counting will begin as soon as voting is completed and ballots will be counted at the voting station where they were cast in the presence of party agents, independent candidate agents and observers who monitor the counting as well as the results compilation.