Four Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials are on trial for electoral fraud in the Metsimaholo Municipality in the Free State.
Molefi Mabe, Meshack Motlatsi, Siyaganga Ndaba and Mokong Radebe are accused of allowing at least two unregistered people, whose names did not appear on the voters roll, to vote during the 2016 local government elections.
If found guilty, they could face between five and 10 years imprisonment.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party agents opened the criminal case with police after failing to get any joy from the presiding officer and other senior IEC managers in the area when they raised their objections.
EFF's Seloane Motjeane, who laid the charge, told News24 that during a random check at their information desk outside the polling station, they discovered the two men were not registered for the polls.
"They were not on voters roll and we even sent their identity numbers to the IEC’s dedicated SMS number and it said they were not registered," Motjeane said.
Despite not appearing on the voters roll, their thumbs were inked, to show they had cast their vote, she said.
Motjeane said the presiding officer claimed that the two had signed a special form which allowed them to vote even though the IEC has never made such allowance.
She said while the senior electoral managers agreed with them that it was "wrong" that the two were allowed to vote, they refused to change the electoral staff to further safeguard the voting protocol.
Those on trial include the presiding officer at Iketsetseng school, the other official who held the ZIP scanning machine that verifies if a person is registered to vote, the person who oversaw the voters roll and the person in charge of issuing the ballot paper.
'Serve as a warning'
EFF Secretary General Godrich Gardee told News24 that they suspect this could have been "the tip of the iceberg, not only in Metsimaholo, but the whole country".
The two men who were allowed to vote told the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in their affidavits that they went to the voting station where a woman told them she was allowed to vote even though she was not registered for the polls.
The men confirm in their court papers that when their identity numbers were scanned, the receipt showed that they were not registered to vote but the presiding officer allowed him to proceed in the queue to vote. They were later given a document to fill in their details and sign.
"We think it will serve as a warning to those who intend to be fraudulent in 2019... It's a very important case. It is unprecedented in South Africa that IEC officials will actually be hauled before a court of law on electoral fraud, whatever the outcome might be, the police acted swiftly and NPA was decisive," Gardee said.
The hotly contested municipality was the first in the Free State to be governed by a DA coalition, after it bandied together with the EFF, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and Metsimaholo Community Association (MCA) to unseat the ANC.
However, the municipality has since collapsed and fresh elections are scheduled for November.
Gardee said this case highlights the need for vigilance ahead of what is expected to be a fierce electoral contestation in 2019.
It is understood that the IEC national office was not aware that their officials were out on bail and facing trial for electoral fraud.
News24 contacted spokesperson Kate Bapela on Wednesday, who was unaware of the case but said she will investigate and revert. However, at time of publication she did not respond to phone calls.
The NPA confirmed that the trial started on Wednesday and will continue until Friday at the Sasolburg Magistrate's Court.