Before the sun rose on a chilly morning in the City of Choice on Wednesday, the battle for control of the capital of KwaZulu-Natal had begun.Before the 235 voting stations in Msunduzi had even opened at 7 am on Wednesday, hundreds of voters had already started queuing.Just over 340 000 registered voters were expected to cast their votes across the 39 wards in the municipality, which would ultimately seal the fates of the parties and candidates after months of intense campaigning.The city, which is the second-largest in the province, is one of the most highly contested municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal, with 11 political parties and 10 independent candidates jostling for positions.Outgoing mayor Chris Ndlela said on Wednesday a strong foundation had been laid for the new leadership of the city. Ndlela, who voted at Funulwazi Primary School in Imbali, was met by sociable community members who had been singing struggle songs.Speaking to The Witness moments after casting his vote, he said his vote was intended to strengthen democracy, advance the people’s power and fast-track service delivery.Ndlela said much had been done to speed up service delivery during his term, but conceded that a lot had also not been achieved.“The new leadership will continue from a well-built foundation. There is a high expectation of service delivery. I am confident that more will be done to better the lives of our people.“The most important aspect is transformation in the rural communities and townships, but neither the suburbs nor the city should be neglected.”Ndlela appealed to the community to fully support the new leadership. He said he had learned to work with different people from different spheres of life during his five-year stint as mayor, which resulted in unity and cohesion.“I have worked under excessive pressure and always upheld work ethics.“I have also learned that continuous communication between the leadership and the public is key.”The relationship between the city and the business sector had contributed more towards the growth of the municipality, he added.ANC mayoral candidate Themba Njilo voted at KwaMnyandu Primary School in Vulindlela on Tuesday.DA mayoral candidate Mergan Chetty voted at Orient Heights Primary School, and said his vote followed two-and-a-half years of hard work. Chetty said he had made a promise to always keep a watchful eye on Msunduzi when he was appointed as a Member of Parliament. “With the parallel investigations brought by the President’s Special Investigating Unit and Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, I was left with no choice but to focus on this local government election and run as the DA mayoral candidate,” he said. Chetty said the DA had a track record of running nine of the 10 best municipalities in the country, and he wanted to bring that ethic to Msunduzi. According to Chetty, the day ran smoothly on Wednesday. “The hours of canvassing and kilometres travelled were all worth it when we arrived at voting stations and there were still people hooting and giving us the thumbs-up, saying they will be voting for change,” he said. IFP hopeful Dennis Ntombela said he had been the first person to vote at the KwaMncane voting station in Elandskop.“By 5 am I was already up. I got to the polling station at about 6.30 am and there was only the presiding officer at the station at that time.“I am very happy with how the process went. There was also a nice vibe around the polling station,” he said.Ntombela said he had received complaints that IFP party agents and volunteers were being harassed in Richmond Ward 2.Dozens of ANC supporters gathered at Thandokuhle Creche in Willowfountain, where former premier and current ANC national treasurer Zweli Mkhize voted alongside his wife, May.“It is an exciting moment,” said Mkhize after casting his vote.He described Wednesday as a “nice conclusion to a hectic campaign”.As many as 14 people were murdered in the province during the build-up to the elections, the bulk of them being ANC candidates and branch leaders.“We were very concerned with the loss of lives and violence leading up to the elections. These were criminal activities. There was no political basis that could justify lives being lost,” he said.Meanwhile, elections across the province were relatively peaceful on Wednesday, with the exception of a panga attack on a man in a voting queue in Pongola. KZN police said the attack was not related to the elections.No violence was reported in local areas identified as poll hotspots, such as Sobantu, Edendale, Imbali and other areas in the province. Provincial IEC spokesperson Thabani Ngwira said all the 4 792 voting stations throughout the province had opened on time. He added a woman had died while queuing to cast her vote in Bulwer. — WR.