Johannesburg - Pockets of protest action marred an otherwise smooth voter registration weekend that saw South Africans gearing up for the upcoming August 3 local government elections.
While nine voting stations in the Vhembe district failed to open on Sunday morning, by mid-afternoon, three of these were operating – and it was all systems go at the 22 608 other stations.
By 21:00 on Sunday evening, when stations across the country were scheduled to close, almost 100 had stayed open to register late arrivals.
IEC spokesperson Mawethu Mosery said that the stations would close before midnight and that registration had been incident free.
Earlier on Sunday, electoral commission spokeswoman Kate Bapela said that overall, the weekend’s operations “went extremely well...
“We are hoping for some great news when we look at the final numbers.”
She said that the final statistics of how many South Africans had registered should be available next week.
Meanwhile, the ANC in Kwazulu-Natal reported that one of its members had died on Sunday while assisting voters as a part agent in the Imvamazi Voting District in uMfolozi on the North Coast.
“Reports indicate that Cde [Sabelo] Ngcobo collapsed after complaining of some pains and was rushed to the nearest clinic for medical attention where he passed away.”
On Sunday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane was out and about in Pretoria on a voter registration drive.
He condemned acts of violent protest, saying that dissatisfaction with government should rather be indicated at the polls.
“It will regress us as a society. The biggest protest we can give, is to vote out a government that is no longer delivering services to the people,” Maimane told members of the public in Mamelodi.
Isolated instances of protest action were reported on Saturday in Paarl in the Western Cape, Ntabankulu and Umtata in the Eastern Cape and four voting stations in Kwazulu-Natal in Ladysmith, Umfolozi and Escourt.
On Kapok in the south of Johannesburg, Saturday's registration got off to a shaky start when IEC officials received an unpleasant welcome as residents blockaded roads with burning tyres and rocks. The IEC tent was eventually erected and manned under heavy police guard.
The electoral commission said that ultimately fewer than 40 voting stations had not opened on its first day of business. Besides some of the unrest in the Vhembe district - reasons included logistical delays “such as keys to venues not being available, double bookings of venue, delays in staff arrivals and two vehicle accidents reported.”
Cooperative Governance Minister Des Van Rooyen on Sunday also condemned the violence reported.
“We cannot allow voting stations to be closed as a result of violence and intimidation,” said the minister in a statement.
“Too many people have paid the ultimate price so that all South Africans have the right to vote.”
Various politicians were out in full force all over the country on the weekend. While. the leadership of the ANC was out in their signature gold and green colours where they went on door-to-door campaigns, handing out party t-shirts to potential voters, a Twitter controversy emerged.
A message "If you don't support Cde Jacob Zuma, we do not want your votes!" on @MyANC_ was quickly attributed to a hacker. Party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said somebody was trying to distract them from their campaigning and said it was definitely not an insider.
Early indications of voter turnout, captured from about 70 percent of stations, indicated that over 1.2 million voters had visited stations on Saturday: “to register, re-register at new voting stations or re-register and provide updated address details at their existing voting station.”
Before this year’s registrations drives, 25.6 million registered voters were on the voters’ roll – about 75 percent of the eligible voting population.
More than 3 million voters visited voting stations during the March registration weekend.
Earlier this week, the IEC announced that it had sent text messages to approximately 5.3 million registered voters for whom no address details are currently available on the voters’ roll as part efforts to update and enhance the voters’ roll ahead of elections.
The initiative follows the Constitutional Court ruling in November last year in the Tlokwe matter that a voter’s address or sufficient particularities of their place of residence were essential to ensure that the voter is registered in the correct voting district.
Potential voters will still be able to register at IEC offices until the proclamation of the election.