Five hundred soldiers get presiding officer training for elections


Last week’s national and provincial elections were largely incident-free with security forces, in the form of police and soldiers, widely deployed, but their specialist skills were not needed.

Police Minister Bheki Cele this week briefed the media on the elections on behalf of Cabinet’s justice, crime prevention and security cluster in Pretoria.

He trotted out impressive numbers of police and police reservists deployed – 51 000 and more than 3 500 – in support of the massive logistic exercise the elections presented. These 53 500 police officers were tasked with protecting 22 924 polling stations.

While the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) was not a “front line” election deployment, the country’s military was an important component of the overall government election machine. This saw troops deployed to protect what Minister Cele called “two strategic installations in KwaZulu-Natal” and a third company was deployed in North West to support police.

“Each of the remaining provinces had their company of SANDF on standby to assist should a need have arisen,” he said.

In the wake of the elections, 448 soldiers can add “election presiding officers” to their CVs. They, along with 903 police officers, were given “sufficient training as IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) presiding officers in all provinces should the need have arisen”.

Cele elaborated on recent bridge building efforts by the SA Army Engineer Formation in Eastern Cape telling the briefing the temporary bridges ensured citizens in flood-affected areas and communities were able to reach polling stations. The bridges, he added, will continue to provide access to services beyond the elections.

Soldiers in KwaZulu-Natal worked with a number of municipalities in the east coast province to bring roads destroyed by heavy rain and flooding back to usable status ahead of the 8 May polling day.  This was to ensure all necessary election materials could be safely delivered to polling stations.

The Police Minister thanked international observer missions which kept a weather eye on voting proceedings.

The preliminary statement issued by the Southern African Development community (SADC) election observation mission noted the 8 May elections were “conducted in an orderly and professional manner and within the requirements of the legal framework of the Republic of South Africa and further, in accordance with the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2015)”.

SADC also pointed to the political and security environment being “generally peaceful before, during and immediately after polling day”.