Protests halt voter registration

RESIDENTS in a Port Elizabeth neighbourhood brought voter registration to a halt yesterday and told mayor Ben Fihla that unless his officials started building them houses, no one would register to vote.

The flare-up in Silvertown, New Brighton, was one of several throughout the country – one with protesters throwing petrol-bombs and another forcing officials to leave under police guard – as more than 22000 polling stations were set up for voter registration.

One of the worst-hit regions was Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape. It was totally shut down by a large contingent of SANDF soldiers and police who drove from as far as Port Elizabeth.

In Silvertown – recently named by Stats SA as the worst place in the country in which to live – residents hadcamped outside the MK Hall, Mandlingozi Street, since Friday.

They said they were fed up with using the bucket toilet system and the general lack of development, and insisted they would not allow registration to take place unless their problems were addressed.

The situation reached boiling point yesterday when residents and ANC volunteers faced off as party pamphlets were being distributed.

Three police vehicles had to monitor and guard Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials at the hall where they were waiting in case people arrived to register.

Angry residents, including schoolchildren, stood at the entrance gate to the hall blocking anyone from entering.

The volunteers from the ANC were transported in a truck and dropped off at the hall. Later they walked to drop off pamphlets in houses.

The residents tore up the pamphlets, saying they would not be voting unless there was development.

On Saturday, Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Ben Fihla and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula were berated by angry residents.

Residents shouted at Fihla and told him: "Go! We do not need you [Hamba! asikufune]."

Mapisa-Nqakula was deployed to drive the last voter registration weekend before the general election on May 7.

But her campaign trail hit a brick wall when residents told her they would not register unless their demands were met. An IEC official, who spoke on condition of anonymity at the MK Hall, said: "Few people turned up for registration."

Resident Thembinkosi Malgas said only two people registered.

The mayor had been told that until the first brick for new homes to be built in Silvertown was laid, no one would register to vote, Malgas said.

The minister's spokeswoman, Joy Nonzukiso Peter, said IEC officials were not allowed at the venue and that Mapisa-Nqakula had tried to reason with disgruntled residents.

"The majority of them responded well to the minister. They told her their action was not about the ANC or any other political party but a plea for basic services. Mapisa-Nqakula instructed municipal officials to address the community [today] at 4pm," Peter said.

Municipal spokesman Kupido Baron said residents had met officials led by the mayor on Saturday.

"Several issues were discussed, including the bucket system. It would appear there was an administrative problem and they [buckets] will be picked up today," Baron said.

ANC provincial elections co-ordinator Mlibo Qoboshiyane said the party was "quite concerned" by the service delivery protests.

IEC spokeswoman Pearl Ngoza failed to respond to inquiries.

Meanwhile, despite government assurances that the last voter registration before the election had ben a success, sporadic violence broke out at several registration stations.

The protests revolved around poor service delivery in large parts of the country, with residents from some entire areas not registering. Protesters petrol-bombed two registration stations in Bekkersdal in Gauteng on Saturday as they clashed with police.

IEC officials had to be escorted into Sebokeng's Boiketlong informal settlement after fears of intimidation.

But Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa yesterday described the voter registration process as a success.

"Overall, we are happy about what we committed ourselves to ... that is that no area would be a no-go area.

"If the IEC has designated an area to be one of the polling stations, we have made it a point that happens."

There were some reports of the Economic Freedom Fighters allegedly distributing tyres in Hebron, North West. – Additional reporting by Lehlohonolo Tau and Penwell Dlamini