Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu walks to cast his ballot during municipal elections in Cape Town. (Schalk van Zuydam, AP)
Pretoria - The heart of South Africa’s democracy was pumping on Wednesday as politicians mingled with the masses in long, snaking queues at various polling stations for the local government elections.
101-year-old gogo Sizeni Mbambo, clad in pink paisley print and wielding a knobkierre, ululated and danced in the dusty grounds of the Ntolwane Primary School voting station in Nkandla, when her main man, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma arrived.
“Don’t laugh at me now, it is because I am weak and old, but in the past, I used to beat the other young girls in dancing,” said Mbambo, much to Zuma’s amusement.
Zuma said he was pleased to see elderly people like Mbambo vote: “She is one of the people who did not vote for many years”.
The head of state, attired in a tartan jacket and accompanied by three of his wives - Tobeka Madiba Zuma, MaKhumalo and MaNgema - and a daughter, happily chatted as he waited his turn in the line. He stood behind another elderly gentleman dressed in blue overalls and shared a warm chuckle with him.
In Johannesburg, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane and his wife Natalie queued at the Allen Glen High School in Roodepoort, for his chance to finally “do it for Mandela” - according to his party’s controversial campaign slogan.
He was spotted high-fiving a baby whose parents were voting at the same station.
“This election has been special for us. It will be a historic one for the people of South Africa,” Maimane said after casting his ballot. He believed his party had grown tremendously, not only in Gauteng, but in other provinces as well.
In Polokwane, Economic Freedom Front leader Julius Malema co-ordinated the shades of his fire-engine red windbreaker with his wife’s wine-red, cape-with-fur detail. He brought his grandmother to the Mponegele voting station.
After putting his X on the ballot paper, Malema said he believed his party had done all it could.
“We have put up a good fight. It ends here. It's now up to South Africans," he said.
Former president Thabo Mbeki, who met Malema and Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau this week, voted at the Holy Family College in Killarney.
He told reporters and photographers, who had to be shooed away from his voting booth by IEC officials, that his vote was still a secret, but “you can guess what it is”.
Nearby in the same suburb, another former president, Kgalema Motlanthe, cut a relaxed figure as he hobnobbed with others at the Killarney Country Club - until an unidentified man began heckling him.
The Sowetan Live website reported that the man was escorted from venue after continuously shouting: “How do you sleep at night, sir?”
ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was booed when she arrived to vote in Inchanga‚ west of Durban.
According to Sowetan Live, a group of people wearing SACP T-shirts began jeering the festively dressed AU Commission chair. She later dismissed the incident as being simply part of the “vibrant” mood.
Struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela made her mark in Orlando West, Soweto, declaring that voters should remember “those who are no longer with us”.
“Of course every time I put that cross on the paper I think of all those who are not here with us and those who didn’t make it back home and gave up their lives for the struggle,” she said.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah made their mark in Milnerton, Cape Town. The national icon flashed his trademark lightbulb smile as he left the station, having clearly won over the Fanta-grape-purple clad IEC officials.
Various other politicians ensured they fulfilled their democratic duties on voting day.
Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his wife arrived at the Buthelezi Traditional Court, where he confidently asserted that people were seeing that the IFP was still doing the work it had always promised to do.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder felt upbeat about his relationship with Potchefstroom’s residents when he voted at the NG Gemeente Potch-Noord.
“I've lived here for 40 years and was a professor at the university. So most people are already familiar with me,” he said.
Suspended ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman proved popular with the public at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kuilsriver, Cape Town. They warmly greeted and hugged him.
He was proud to declare his allegiance to the ruling party but rebuffed attempts to get comment on the sexual harassment accusations by assistant Louisa Wynand.
''Challenges come and go. I know the detail, I know the what, and I know the where. But for today, that is not my interest,'' he said.
Battle for Port Elizabeth
Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille confessed to a healthy self-esteem.
“Every day of my work as the mayor of the City of Cape Town has been to protect my own integrity by making sure that what I have put into the manifesto and the plans I have committed myself to, is carried out.
I am confident that I have done that,” she said.
Despite originally hailing from KwaZulu-Natal, ANC mayoral candidate for Tshwane, Thoko Didiza, said she felt at home at her voting location, the Kaya Beach restaurant in Grootfontein, Pretoria.
Although she did not have a yellow and green ANC shirt handy, she substituted it for a similarly hued Mamelodi Sundowns one.
Fierce rivals for the Port Elizabeth mayoral position, the ANC’s Danny Jordaan and DA’s Athol Trollip declared winning aspirations when casting their votes in Summerstrand and Richmond Hill.
Jordaan hoped to get at least 55%, while Trollip’s goal for his party was 50% plus one.
During her voting visit to St Paul's Church in Rondebosch, Western Cape premier Helen Zille reaffirmed the DA’s right to some Madiba magic.
"The late Nelson Mandela was a symbol for all. Jacob Zuma invoked the name of Jesus Christ, as though he is a member of the ANC!” she said.
Operating on a different wavelength, some citizens, clearly less keen to hobnob with the political elite, used voting day to protest. There were sporadic flare-ups throughout the country.
In Cambridge, East London, police fired rubber bullets and used teargas to disperse a group of youngsters who tried to burn down the Gcobani community hall voting station.
In Vuwani, Limpopo, voting stations did not open on time as residents boycotted elections in protest against a recent municipal demarcation decision.
Residents had dug ditches across some roads and blocked them with rocks, in an attempt to stop IEC officials from getting to the area. The army and police were maintaining a strong presence in the area.
In Manenberg, Cape Town, a 61-year-old woman was wounded in suspected gang-related crossfire near three polling stations in the area.
Meanwhile, two voters, one in Bulwer in KwaZulu-Natal and the other in Strydenberg, Northern Cape, died of apparent natural causes while waiting in line to vote.
The firing of a group of IEC officials, missing voters’ rolls, ballot box seals and scanners, and delayed station openings were some of the other hiccups experienced as voting got underway earlier.
Nevertheless, despite these reports of some voters being left out in the cold, the IEC was positive about Wednesday's polls.
The vast majority of the country's 22 612 voting stations were open on time at 07:00 and voting was flowing smoothly, IEC chairperson Glen Mashinini told reporters at the national results centre in Tshwane.
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