South Africans vote in most competitive election since apartheid ended


KWAMASHU, South Africa – South Africans voted on Wednesday in the most competitive election since the end of apartheid, with opinion polls suggesting the African National Congress could lose its parliamentary majority after 30 years in government.

People queue to vote in the South African elections in Masiphumelele, South Africa, May 29, 2024 REUTERS/Nic Bothma

Queues formed in the main cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as polling got underway around 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), with lines also seen in the morning cold in townships on the outskirts of cities and in rural areas.

"I grew up loving the ANC because of how they fought for the freedom we have today," said business owner Skhumbuzo Mnyandu, 48, who came out to vote in KwaMashu, a township close to Durban. "That is why I voted for them all these years."

"But this year, I have changed because of the problems with the ruling party, and so I have become a member of the MK party," he said, referring to uMkhonto we Sizwe, a new party backed by former president Jacob Zuma.

Voters at polling stations across the country cited high rates of unemployment and crime, frequent power blackouts and corruption in ANC ranks as reasons why they would vote for opposition parties.

Young voters who did not live through apartheid were particularly disillusioned with the ANC and the country's economic prospects.

"We are young, and there's no jobs for the youth. We have degrees, but there's no getting jobs, there's no difference actually. So, I'm here to make a difference and vote for MK, maybe they are going to do better than the ANC," said Nosipho Mkhize, a 28-year old - the median age in South Africa.

Others however were wary of change.

Pensioner Charles Louw, 62, said he would remain loyal to the ANC as he distrusted the promises made by opposition parties to create jobs, end power cuts or crack down on crime.

"The ANC have been trying to do it, they are there, they have got experience, they know how to accommodate everything. But the new parties, where will they start?" he said after voting in Alexandra, a sprawling township east of Johannesburg.

People queue to vote at a polling station during the South African elections in Hopetown, Northern Cape province, South Africa May 29, 2024 REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Then led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC swept to power in South Africa's first multi-racial election in 1994 and has won a majority in national elections held every five years since then, though its share of the vote has gradually declined.

If it falls short of 50% this time, the ANC will have to make a deal with one or more smaller parties to govern - uncharted and potentially choppy waters for a young democracy that has so far been dominated by a single party.

Voters are electing provincial assemblies in each of the country's nine provinces, and a new national parliament which will then choose the next president.

With the ANC still on course to win the largest share of the vote, its leader President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to remain in office.

More than 27 million South Africans are registered to vote at more than 23,000 polling stations, with voting due to end at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).

"If early indications are anything to go by, we may match or just surpass the 66% voter turnout (seen in the last election in 2019)," said Masego Sheburi, a senior official at the electoral commission, at a briefing about six hours into the election.

Turnout has steadily fallen since the start of the democratic era and is one of the key variables this time.

The election appeared to be going smoothly in most places, with Sheburi saying 93% of polling stations had opened on time.

Reuters reporters witnessed isolated incidents, such as voters being turned away from a Johannesburg polling station because they were not registered to vote there, and in one Alexandra location voting was delayed for hours due to the late arrival of ballot papers.


After voting in Soweto, a huge township outside Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said the ANC had run a strong campaign.

"I have no doubt whatsoever in my heart of hearts that the people will invest their confidence in the African National Congress," he said.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) party which won the second-largest share of the vote in the last election in 2019, urged voters to turn out in large numbers to bring change to South Africa.

"This is the most consequential election since 1994," he said after casting his ballot in Durban.

An election official prepares the ballots Wednesday May 29, 2024, for the general elections in Soweto, South Africa. South Africans are voting in an election seen as their country's most important in 30 years, and one that could put them in unknown territory in the short history of their democracy, the three-decade dominance of the African National Congress party being the target of a new generation of discontent in a country of 62 million people - half of whom are estimated to be living in poverty. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Other opposition parties hoping to loosen the ANC's grip on power include the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), founded by Julius Malema, a firebrand former leader of the ANC's youth wing. The EFF wants to nationalise mines and banks and seize land from white farmers to address racial and economic disparities.

"We see ourselves overtaking the ANC, not the DA. The DA is small boys. We have no time for small boys," a typically combative Malema told reporters as he arrived to cast his ballot in Seshego, in the northern province of Limpopo.

"We're going for the real giant, which is the ANC. We are in an election to remove the ANC," he said.

Opinion polls suggest EFF support has been hovering between 10 and 12%, far short of the ANC on 37-44%, but Malema could find himself in position to be a kingmaker depending on the election results.

Zuma's new MK party looks set to eat into both ANC and EFF support, especially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal where he has enduring influence despite being forced to quit as president in 2018 after a string of scandals.

The election commission is expected to start releasing partial results within hours of polling stations closing and final results within three or four days at most.

Post a Comment