Cadre deployment is destroying the IEC - Helen Zille

DA FCC explains the events that led to her being frogmarched out of a voting station in NMB

Journalists are currently trying to contact me for details of the snippet of news released about my being “manhandled” out of a voting station in Nelson Mandela Bay today. So here is the background

Election day is an enormous logistic exercise. In each town and city there are hundreds of volunteers, assigned different tasks: phoning voters, transporting voters, checking IDs, collating statistics, managing the media, dealing with a myriad of queries and much more.

My task today, in Nelson Mandela Bay, was two-fold: greeting voters and “walking the queues”.

Greeting voters is self-explanatory. I enjoy doing it.

But when long queues start to form, the job of “walking the queues” becomes more important. It involves encouraging people to stay in the queue, no matter how long it takes and how frustrated they get, so that they can cast their vote rather than go home.

Queue walking has never been as important in any election before as it was today. The IEC had a new voter-processing system, which took an inordinately long time per voter. And so, from as early as 09h00 this morning, especially in DA strongholds, long queues started to form, snaking around buildings.

At a voting station at Wonder-Wonings, the IEC’s Presiding Officers took a sensible decision early on. They split the queue into two, by alphabetical surname. One queue was for surnames A – M. The second queue was for surnames N-Z. And from that moment on the queues moved and the wait was no longer than 45 minutes.

Not so at most of the other voting stations in the DA-voter-rich Northern Areas of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

At these stations, from about 09h30, I switched my job from voter-greeting to queue-walking.

I was very careful to ensure that I did not canvas anywhere within the IEC’s boundary line. Once, outside the boundary line, when I encountered a woman waiting in a DA blue T-shirt, I said “Hou by die Blou”. We hugged. That was that.

As I walked the queues, I said two things: “Thank you for coming out today” and “Please wait in the queue. It will take long time but it is very important that you vote”.

I have done queue walking like this in most elections, and there has never been a problem. It was an especially important task today as voters, waiting in the howling wind and strong sun, were especially taxed by the weather.

At Ferndale Park Primary, I found a particularly long queue, snaking around the building. Voters were already angry -- at 09h30 in the morning. Many said they had been waiting for well over an hour. I walked up the queue, urging them to remain. Using my authorisation form, I went into the voting station, signed a book and spoke to the Presiding Officer.

I have posted a picture of her on this post, courtesy of her Facebook Profile. Yes, this is the person the IEC put as the Presiding Officer in a ward in a DA stronghold. Her name is Kholiwe Yolanda Latola.

She identified her super as a Matolindile Zingithwa, a well-known luminary of SADTU, the vocally anti-DA Teachers’ Union.

Their attitude showed.

They were entirely disinterested in resolving the extreme slowness of the voting process and over the course of several interactions it was plain that they were only interested in asserting their authority rather than assisting voters.

After observing the scene, I could see immediately where the hold-up was. It was in the slow manual-input of voters’ id numbers into a tablet. I then tried to establish how long the voting would take by timing this interaction on my phone’s stop-watch.

I positioned myself two meters from where this device was being used to manually capture ID numbers. I did not interfere with a single voter, nor with any officer performing his or her duties. I merely timed the process.

The shortest time it took to capture an ID number was 30 seconds. The longest was 90 seconds. Multiplying the average by the number of people in the queue, I calculated that it would take about 4 – 5 hours for the people at the back of the queue to get to the front.

Ms Latola then told me to leave the voting station. I said I had the required authorisation to be there, and then suggested that she use her authority to divide the queue on the basis of alphabetical surnames, as had happened in a nearby Voting Station. She was not interested in what I had to say, and indeed, did not seem to know anything about this Standard Operating Procedure, that was being applied at some other voting stations. Either that, or else was being deliberately obstructive.

I then left the voting station. I phoned our IEC representative in Nelson Mandela Bay, to explain that Ms Latola seemed to have no idea of the simple mechanism of dividing the queue into two, and asked that the matter be escalated to the IEC provincially because according to my calculation, people would wait in that queue for five hours and more.

I then went on my rounds to other voting stations. At about 12h30 I returned to Fernwood Park Primary only to find the queue even longer, and that the double queue system had still not been implemented.

Once again, I walked up the queue from the back, thanking people for coming, and asking them to stay in the queue, even though many of them had been waiting for hours. When I made my way to the front of the queue, two of the ANC party agents told me to stop canvassing in the queue. I told them I was not canvassing, I was urging people to stay in the queue despite their intense frustration at the inordinate delay.

Using my written authorisation, I again entered the voting station and approached Ms Latola. She immediately snapped at me that I was canvassing in the queue. I said that was not true, and told her not to accuse me of this when she had no evidence to that effect at all.

A burly policeman, Warrant Officer A Botha, approached and before I could say a word, he instructed me to leave. I presented my authorisation, and said I had a right to be there. With that he instructed me to leave, grabbed me and frog-marched me out of the building. I told him to let me go or I would charge him with assault.

I tried to rip myself free of his grasp but he was very powerful and frog-marched me all the way to the gate. My colleague filmed the last segment of his violence, at which point he lunged over and grabbed her cell phone. She tried to get it back but he turned and went into the building.

We then drove straight to the Bethelsdorp Police station to lay a charge. I returned to our campaign headquarters in the Northern Areas. There our Mayoral candidate, Nqaba Banga, arrived and together we went back to the voting station to see what could be done about the unlawful blocking of my access, the untrue allegations that I had canvassed in the queue, and more especially, to get the queue divided into two to move more quickly. By this stage the supervisor, Mr Zingithwa was there, and he let off a volley of abuse as well.

We realised we would not get any rationality, let alone proper queue management from them, so we returned to the headquarters where I received advice to lodge a formal dispute.

After a lengthy wait, Ms Latola spoke to us in a nearby booth. I was eventually provided with a dispute form, which I filled in. During the course of this exercise, a woman who identified herself as a Ms Norris arrived, to say her elderly father had previously been registered in Bedford, but had re-registered at the Ferndale Park Primary school. He had waited for hours, only to find he was not on the voters’ roll.

Ms Latola said: “He is supposed to have the papers to show that he re-registered.”

Having been through a re-registration process myself, I know that is not necessarily true, especially if one re-registers on-line.

When it was clear that the presiding officer was not going to do anything to resolve the legitimate query, I asked Ms Norris if she could give me her father’s ID number and I would then send an sms to 38210 to check whether his re-registration had been successful.

Ms Latola then let rip at me again, saying I was interfering with voters. I said this was not true. The persons were not voting. They were not even in the queue. They had merely asked her a question. I had witnessed her entirely unsatisfactory answer and tried to help the voter myself. Because I did not have my cell phone with me, I asked Ms Norris for her phone number so that I could check with her later to tell her if her father was registered.

Ms Latola promptly popped another proverbial blood-vessel because I had taken Ms Norris’s cellphone number and put it in my pocket, so that I could call and help her later when I had my phone, to help her resolve the problem with her father’s registration.

The matter was rapidly turning into farce. Ms Latola again summoned the police to say I was interfering with a voter -- for merely taking the telephone number to help resolve a problem, as it is both my right and duty to do.

When I had finished writing out my formal objection, I noted it was past 15h30. I said I had requested the queue to be divided into two sections at 09h30 in the morning, that I had escalated the matter to the IEC provincially where I was promised a response, and six hours later, nothing had happened.

Ms Latola said she had asked “someone” to divide the queue, but could not say who. A colleague of mine went to check and returned to say the queue had not been divided. I then, again, requested Ms Latola to implement the standard practice of queue division.

It was at this point that she issued the immortal South African phrase: “I am now on lunch”. And that was that. She was hungry, she said, and she had a right to eat.

I bit my tongue and left the building.

This was only one instance of the IEC’s incompetence. I encountered several today. But this level of obstructiveness only from Ms Latola.

Cadre deployment, right down the level of individual voting stations, has destroyed the IEC.

The delays today at the Fernwood Park Primary Voting Station were clearly deliberate, and scores of voters left without voting in this DA stronghold. The same, apparently, applies in many other places.

If elections lose their credibility in South Africa, the IEC will have much to answer for. As I experienced today at Fernwood Park Primary.

This item first appeared as a post on Helen Zille’s Facebook page.