I haven't slept for 36 hours - IEC official

2016-08-05 17:47
Esmond Fortuin with Western Cape IEC head Courtney Sampson (Jenni Evans, News24)

Cape Town - Birthdays were missed, a new baby was brought over for some mommy time, the family car was out of action, and long night shifts.

These were some of the sacrifices IEC staff made to ensure the 2016 municipal elections went smoothly.

"Nobody really thinks about this," Western Cape electoral officer Courtney Sampson said on Friday.

Some IEC staff members were still present at the IEC centre in Century City, Cape Town, sitting at the desks arranged in the X of a voter's cross.

Working in their pink shirts on their raised platform, they have been taking calls from political parties, the public, and anybody with a complaint or concern.

"I have not slept for 36 hours," said Esmond Fortuin, supervisor of four IEC offices in Cederberg.

From Bredasdorp, Fortuin had to miss his precious grandson's birthday on Monday. He set his phone in case he forgot to make the all-important call, while the first day of elections got underway with special votes.

"Maybe I should have skyped him. If they kept some cake for me it will be hard by now," he laughed.

A new mother came in from her maternity leave and the family brought her baby to her at night so they could have some bonding time at the hotel they were booked into.

Monday was "Sassa day", the acronym for the SA Social Security Agency. This meant IEC officials found that many people who had registered for a special vote at home were not there, because they had gone to fetch their social grants. They tried to get to as many of these people as possible on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the administration piled up. Paying the staffers required two separate pay runs - one for the special vote staff, and one for the main election day staff.

Power naps

Not wanting to be swamped by two sets of people to pay, they worked hard at clearing the special vote staff's pay details so that by Wednesday they would start with a clean slate for the election day staff.

In the run-up to the election, the IEC officials had signed leases and confirmed arrangements with the voting station venues.

As the clocked ticked toward voting time, they had to deliver the booths and other equipment to the voting stations.

There were two birthdays in the centre - one on election day. Staff took a moment to sing Happy Birthday, but then it was back to work.

They used their own discretion for breaks, choosing lulls to leave "The ROC" (Results Operations Centre) for a power nap.

"When things were running smoothly, they could take a half-hour power nap," he  said.

Nobody fell asleep during this election, unlike the previous one in 2011, which took longer to finalise.

"People were just dropping their heads on their desks at that one."

'Home cooking'

Although there were times during the this year's election when a few Red Bull energy drinks were consumed, he said.

Although the Century City Convention Centre looked after and fed them well, "there came a time when I just couldn't eat. I wanted home cooking", he said.

The students hired to run queries to the IEC officials were allocated the use of some hotel rooms where they could shower, brush their teeth, and nap, but otherwise they also had to do all-nighters.

Fortuin said his family was used to him being away for the elections. This one was his fifth.

But this time, his wife Margie called to say she had to rely on neighbours to get out to do errands because he had the car. He asked his son to help her.

On Saturday, the family would drive to Cape Town for a get-together. The women would watch a musical, and the men relax and catch up. Fortuin's only task then would be to not nod off mid-conversation.

- Find everything you need to know about the 2016 Local Government Elections at our News24 Elections site, including the latest news and detailed, interactive maps for how South Africa has voted over the past 3 elections, or download the app for iOS and Android.

Read more on: iec  |  local elections 2016