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27 May 2011

The lion and the missing voter

Spotting a runaway lion from her veranda was how election day started for Susan Erasmus. And it got even weirder as the day continued.

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Spotting a runaway lion from her stoep was how election day started for Susan Erasmus. And it got weirder as the day continued.

I didn't vote, because I was in the middle of the Kalahari on holiday. I have always loved deserts. Much more than municipal elections. In my defense I have to say I did find out whether it was possible to bring out a postal vote, but it wasn't. So I decided that for once my country would have to do without me on this day. I was sure they would somehow manage, and they did.

On the way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we saw evidence of election battles in towns such as Klawer, Calvinia, Brandvlei and Kenhardt. The first indication that a town was looming in the distance was the election posters. And after 140km of nothing but sand, stones, saltpans, sheep, and more stones, these provided a very welcome diversion.

Congratulations to Cope's James Gabriel Styles who ended up taking the election in Kenhardt and the ANC's Frik Sterkse who now presides over the dusty town of Brandvlei. Nice pics, guys. You have no idea how happy we were to see them on the dead straight R27. And then of course the delightful poster opposite the graveyard with the slogan: "Salvation starts here". Yeah, right.

OK, back to the lion. Our holiday was planned at short notice, so we had to grab whatever accommodation we could find. It ranged from grand to VERY basic (bring your own drinking water and check your shoes for scorpions in the morning. Do not feed the hyenas).

By chance 18 May was a luxury day. Coffee at sunrise on the stoep. African vistas (we glimpsed Botswana, SA and Namibia in one day). And the next thing my friend, whose eyesight  would put trackers and pilots to shame, spots a lion wandering up and down the border fence. A large one. And it's on the wrong side of the fence. In other words in farmlands where herds of Dorper sheep graze innocently. (Any bets on how a battle between these two species would unfold?)

So off to the office in the rest camp to report our wandering friend. It sets into motion a search by trackers, people with darts, the police. They have been looking for the escapee and really would like to find it before someone takes a pot shot at it.

It is to this same office we return later in the day to find out what the outcome was. It is only then that we see that this small building, which already houses a reception office, a wildlife information centre, a border post, and a police station, is also a polling station with IEC official firmly ensconced bib and all.

But it is late afternoon and he is slightly on edge: 24 of the 25 people who are registered to vote have done so. There's one missing and he can't go home until every last name is ticked off the list. A general cry goes out for number 25. Turns out he is fixing a water pump miles away. But the solution is easy: fetch him, and get the voting over with. A car pulls off in mounds of Kalahari dust. He's lucky they didn't send out the trackers and the guy with the dart.

And no, the voter did not get 'vreeted' by the lion. The animal managed to jump back over the fence by itself. (A bit disconcerting that, I thought, especially as we were sleeping in an unfenced tented camp that night.) I presume the missing voter was found, because shortly after there was no sign of the IEC official and the office was in darkness.

The sun set and the full bright orange moon rose over the Kalahari. Election day 2011 ended with packs of black-backed jackals howling at the moon on the other side of the canvas, and a hyena prowling around the camp.

We had all survived the day, but then we worked out we would be back in Brandvlei when the world was supposed to end on 21 May. Oh well, it's as good a place as any for one's final breath – and you can look at Frik Sterkse's pic while you gasp your last.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, May 2011)

 
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