South Africa sets up special police units for polls

South Africa will deploy special police units during national polls next week to prevent a repeat of clashes between rival political parties that marred pre-vote rallies, its elections chief told Reuters yesterday.

IEC chief Pansy Tlakula said special police units had been set up to monitor hotspots during the April 22 vote, and complaints about intimidation and violence would be fast-tracked to special prosecution units.

The move comes after clashes in February in KwaZulu-Natal province between supporters of the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP), dominated by ethnic Zulus, and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Three ANC members were shot and wounded. Bitter feuding between the two parties in the 1980s and early 1990s killed thousands on both sides.

“Special courts have been established that will deal mainly with election-related cases,” Tlakula said in London, where she was briefing electoral officers ahead of the expatriate vote, scheduled for today.

Tlakula said she was confident the polls would go ahead without major incident, noting that the IEC had organised a peaceful voter education event in the flashpoint village of Nongoma which was attended by the ANC, IFP and other parties.

“I am satisfied about the measures that have been put in place by…the law enforcement agencies to deal with violations of the (electoral) code of conduct,” she said.

“The police for instance have established specialised units that are just there to investigate complaints of election related campaigns.”

South Africans will be electing a national parliament and provincial assemblies. Parliament will then pick a new president, widely expected to be ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

Tlakula said the IEC expected about 16 000 South Africans to vote in South African embassies around the world, compared to 1500 people in the 2004 general elections.

“This is the first time that it (the vote) has been open to all citizens provided that those citizens are registered as voters, (and) provided that they have notified (the IEC) of their intention to vote,” she said.

A Constitutional Court ruling on March 12 granted citizens living abroad the right to vote in national elections, but they remain barred from taking part in provincial ballots.