South Africans have turned out in high numbers for the country's general election. The electorate is widely expected to hand the ruling African National Congress its fifth consecutive victory since the fall of apartheid.
Twenty years after South Africans voted to end apartheid, they shrugged off sporadic violence to cast their ballots Wednesday in the first poll since the death of former President Nelson Mandela. Polls had predicted that his African National Congress (ANC) would claim a fifth consecutive term in power, but strong turnout in cities could prove a boon for the party's political foes.
The watchdog Independent Electoral Commission, reported "extremely high turnout at voting stations, especially those in urban and metro areas where long queues continue to be experienced."
Up to 25 million South Africans were expected to vote, including first time voters from the "Born Free" generation. However, out of the 1.9 million voters born after 1994, only 1 in 3 were registered.
Over the past two months, South Africa's Sunday Times opinion polls had put ANC support at about 65 percent, which is only slightly lower than the 65.9 percent it won in the 2009 election, which brought President Jacob Zuma to power. Amid high unemployment and a lingering recession, the party's campaign this time had relied heavily on past anti-Apartheid glories and on the outpouring of grief over the death of former leader Mandela.
Zuma's approval ratings had dipped since the country's top anti-graft agency accused him of "benefiting unduly" from a $23-million (16.5-million-euros) state-funded security upgrade to his private home in Nkandla. The 72-year-old, however, had brushed aside suggestions the probe was damaging the party.
"The people are not worried about it," he said at a news conference earlier this week. "I think the people who are worried about it is you guys, the media, and the opposition."
Going into Wednesday, the ANC's nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, had been gaining ground since polling 16.7 percent nationwide in 2009. However, the party does not have mass appeal as it is still seen as the political home of privileged whites.
Also in the opposition were the left-leaning Economic Freedom Fighters, led by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who has called for banks and mines to be nationalized. However, the party was likely to have minimal impact, with polls putting its support at 4-5 percent.
hc,mkg/rc (AFP, AP)