Polls open for SA's 6th democratic elections

It's set to be one of the most hotly contested polls in post-apartheid South Africa, with a record 48 political parties contesting the ballot.

Voters line up at the Arcadia Primary School in Pretoria to cast their ballots on 8 May 2019. Picture: Barry Bateman/EWN

JOHANNESBURG/DURBAN/CAPE TOWN - Thousands of polling stations across South Africa will open their doors at 7am on Wednesday morning, marking the start of the country's sixth democratic elections.

It's set to be one of the most hotly contested polls in post-apartheid South Africa, with a record 48 political parties contesting the ballot.

That's 19 more than the last national elections.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) says more than 26 million people are eligible to cast their votes - the provinces with the highest number of registered voters are Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The run-up to the poll has largely been smooth - but early on, the IEC warned that sporadic gang violence and protests could pose a problem to election day.

The Alexandra multi-purpose centre – where residents converged last month to discuss their grievances over a lack of services and crime among other issues - has been turned into a polling station where hundreds of people are expected to cast their vote from 7am.

It’s a public holiday today which explains why the usually buzzing township is quiet but voting activity is expected to pick up soon.

The sprawling township - which is known for being home to many anti-apartheid activists - is battling to shake off its reputation as a hub of crime, infestation and squalor.

Today, many here will try to use their vote to turn its reputation around by making their mark, following weeks of protests.

Moving to KwaZulu-Natal, which was one of the provinces that was identified as a hotspot for possible disruptions to voting.

Parts of the province were also recently ravaged by floods which killed more than 70 people and displaced hundreds more.

The structural damage also forced the IEC to come up with a plan B for some voting stations.

Premier Senzo Mchunu has urged those eligible to vote to exercise their right.

"There is no need for anybody to not go and vote - there is no reason why. Everyone should go and vote because all of us must hold to account the government we have voted for."

More than 5 million voters are expected to visit 4,885 polling stations today to elect the political party they want in the National Assembly and the provincial legislature.

And Premier Mchunu and the joint justice and crime prevention cluster have assured voters that all precautions have been taken to ensure that their constitutional right to vote is respected.

Mchunu told Eyewitness News that this is the last time he'll be in government, so voters have to decide which party will appoint the new premier.

The IEC said on Tuesday that it was all systems go and that stamps and ink would be delivered this morning.

In Cape Town, police are making their presence felt in Mitchells Plain this morning with just hours to go before scores of South Africans head to the polls.

Several communities in Mitchells Plain are included in a list of 41 areas identified as high risk by authorities for violence in the Western Cape.

This includes gang violence and service delivery protests.

It’s a chilly morning, with much of Mitchells Plain still asleep.

Apart from patrolling police vans slowly weaving their way through the streets — and a handful of minibus taxis — the roads are empty.

A police van and an nyala are parked outside the Siqalo informal settlement on the outskirts of Mitchells Plain, a community that’s been the scene of sporadic service delivery protests leading up to the elections.

Just yesterday, officers closed several roads as demonstrators took to the streets.

Protests erupted last month when residents voiced their frustrations over the slow progress of a housing development.

Meanwhile, in Paarl, it's an early start for political party representatives who have started arriving at some polling stations in Paarl East.

It's not just the Western Cape where authorities will be keeping a close eye out for potential violence.

In Limpopo, the IEC has called on police to arrest any person who threatens to disrupt voting in Vuwani, a town which has been plagued by destructive protests in recent years.

Provincial IEC head Nkaro Mateta says no one has the right to disrupt voting.

"Asa far as we are concerned, all the stations will be open. You can rather stay away than block the IEC from doing its work."

And in the Eastern Cape, police have arrested 11 people for public violence following pre-election service delivery protests.

The IEC has assured South Africans that it's done everything possible to ensure the readiness for voting.

The Home Affairs Department, meanwhile, says its branches will remain open today for voters who need to collect ID documents and temporary certificates.

Branches will open at 7am and close at 9pm today.