Election 'hot spots' remain peaceful

Nathi Mthethwa says no major incidents have been reported at polling stations today.

The queue in Bekkersdal. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Millions of people have joined queues across South Africa today to cast their ballots in the country's fifth democratic elections and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa has told Eyewitness News that voters have heeded the call to keep the polls safe and peaceful.

From the 'hot spots' of Bekkersdal and Marikana, to quiet suburbs in Johannesburg and Pretoria, people have flocked to polling stations since early this morning.

A few issues have been reported, including delays in voting, problems at Home Affairs and some tense moments.

But Mthethwa says no major incidents have been reported and he doesn't expect any flare ups of violence as the polls begin to close this evening.

"The conditions weren't conducive for anybody who wanted to be a spoiler. We are happy that we didn't have to apply any force."

Mthethwa, who was in Marikana earlier today, says he believes the peace will last even as the clock ticks down to the closing of over 20,000 voting stations across South Africa.

Meanwhile, diplomatic election observers have praised the country and said they had seen "democracy at work".

Observers from Belgium and Germany visited 13 polling stations in Gauteng and the North West province.

German ambassador to South Africa Horst Freitag and his counterpart said the process was "extremely professional".

They are expected to visit more polling stations in other provinces before voting closes at 9pm.

Delays were, however, reported at some polling stations around the country.

In some instances, officials arrived late, voting material was not delivered on time and buildings were not open at 7am as expected.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says logistical and staff issues were behind the delays.

Voting is now proceeding smoothly, peacefully and briskly at the overwhelming majority of polling stations, the commission said.

IEC Chief Electoral Officer Mosotho Moepya says the issues are being resolved.

"As of 11am, the final handful of voting stations which experienced delays were in the process of running. Only a few of those were still opening."

Later tonight, the first of the election results will be posted on the massive electronic boards at the IEC's National Results Operations Centre in Pretoria.

BEKKERSDAL

Regular patrols by police and the South African National Defence Force in Bekkersdal have restored calm to the area but polling stations remain heavily guarded.

At least three voting stations were torched in Bekkersdal overnight during protests.

The township has experienced a wave of violent service delivery protests in recent months.

IEC tents near the area's taxi rank were burned down by a large group of young people who started demonstrating after a community meeting, prompting police and the army to intervene.

The area was declared high risk by the security cluster.

A number of high-profile politicians, including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and the Democratic Alliance's Mmusi Maimane, also visited the area to speak to residents.

Both condemned last night's violence and Maimane said the only way for residents to make their voices heard was to vote out the ANC.

Madikizela-Mandela has previously made a commitment to help the people of Bekkersdal improve their standards of living and today she visited the sites where the three voting stations were torched.

She was dressed in black and was joined by ANC supporters who sang praises about her as she walked through the township.

She's still in mourning following Mandela's death and thus couldn't address the media.

But Minerals Minister Susan Shabangu said Madikizela-Mandela felt disturbed by what happened last night.

"Last night, there was an intention of disrupting the elections by people who decided to burn the tents, but she believes that what she is seeing is that our people do understand democracy."

Shabangu said she's pleased to see people voting and the police ensuring safety.

"She is very happy about what is going on here where people are voting freely, including the security who are there to protect the people."

Only one person was arrested following last night's protest and additional officers have been deployed to the area to ensure peace.

Authorities say they will stay in the area until after voting has been completed and ballot papers have been transported out of the area.

GUGULETHU

Voting is going well under heavy police guard in the Gugulethu informal settlement on Gauteng's East Rand.

The heavy queues have diminished. Voting was delayed for over four hours this morning because angry residents were intimidating IEC officials.

But voting began after State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele visited the area.

Residents of Gugulethu say they will not allow themselves to be intimidated and are determined to vote despite the unrest in the area.

One woman said the community believed ANC President Jacob Zuma could deliver what he had promised them.

"I believe that things can change, we just need Zuma to step up. We have faith in Zuma and it is now up to him. He is the only one who can change things for us."

But another woman said several residents had lost faith in the ANC government.

"The government doesn't act and that is the problem."

The voting station burned down on Monday has been replaced.

At the only other polling station in the area this afternoon, less than 20 people queued to cast their ballots.

NORTH WEST

The two North West communities of Mothutlung and Marikana, which have been identified as 'hot spots'.

The Economic Freedom Fighters and the ANC in Mothutlung are accusing each other of electioneering close to voting stations in the area.

The EFF says members of the ruling party are handing out T-shirts to voters but the ANC has denies this.

North West residents say they are voting in these two areas to bring about change, despite the violence that has occurred there in recent years.

Earlier this year, four people died in Mothutlung during protests over water shortages and sanitation.

In August 2012, 34 miners were killed and at least 76 miners were also injured during the Marikana shooting.

One resident said no one could criticise the country if they had not voted.

"We can't undo what has happened but we can change the future."

Mothutlung residents had vowed to boycott today's elections in protest but the turnout at voting stations has been positive.