7 May 2014

South Africa: Polls Close in First Born Free Vote

Photo: Werner Beukes/Sapa
Voters wait to cast their ballots in troubled Bekkersdal on the West Rand.

Voting officially ended at 9pm on Wednesday in South Africa's first born-free elections, with officials reporting a turnout of 80 percent in urban areas in the ANC's toughest test at the polls in 20 years in power.

In winding queues, many young first-time voters who never knew apartheid, said they felt uncertain about the future, and about where to make their cross.

"I am scared that even after I graduate I won't get a job because it's hard to find one," said 19-year-old Aveshin Reddy before he cast his ballot in Alberton, Gauteng.

Older voters who remember the thrill of the first all-race elections, told a different story and often one of firm loyalty to the ANC. At the Johannesburg City Hall, Alfred Ntombela, 47, said he had voted in all five general elections since 1994 and had seen the country change dramatically since the advent of democracy.

"Although I have a few complaints about the current government, I know the problem is only with individuals."

Voters who were still in queues at closing time were allowed to cast their ballots, including in the troubled platinum belt in North West, where striking mineworkers came out in strength.

"I have voted. I trust my vote to bring change in my area," said Luxolo Ndabendi, one of the miners that have been on strike at Lonmin, Impala Platinum, and Anglo American Platinum since January 23.

"Although I have voted the situation is the same. I am still starving. I live in a shack."

The first results were expected to trickle in after 10pm. Political analyst Richard Calland said it remained to be seen which parties would benefit most from the higher than expected turnout.

If it meant a surge in middle class turnout, this could mean the Democratic Alliance would increase its vote share substantially, he said.

Calland predicted the DA could increase its majority in the Western Cape by up to six percent. Controversy erupted in Philippi in the province's hotly contested Cape Flats, as the DA claimed that it saw election officials in possession of used ballot papers and demanded an investigation.

It was one of 2442 polling stations where logistical hitches had delayed the start of voting by up to four hours on Wednesday morning. The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) brushed off the delays as part of dealing with 25.3 million registered voters in the country's biggest election yet. It expressed relief that voting went smoothly in areas that had been pre-election flash points.

In Bekkersdal, west of Johannesburg, the military patrolled the streets after election tents were torched on Tuesday night.

In the Evergreen informal settlement outside Springs, tyres were set alight and cars pelted with stones on Wednesday night, and voters there said they felt intimidated.

"I'm scared for my life," said Nokuthula Dlamini, who had already voted.

"I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight because they threatened to attack us at night."

Two roads leading into the settlement were closed off by police before 9pm.

In downtown Pretoria metro police dispersed Economic Freedom Fighters supporters who blocked Paul Kruger Street while voters cast their ballots in the City Hall.

Calland said the upstart party could eat into the ANC's majority if it exceeded expectations and claimed more than six percent of the vote.

Analysts have widely forecast that the ANC could shed up to five percent of its vote share, as once loyal voters stay at home in protest at economic hardship and poor service delivery.

But Precious Ndlovu, who lost her right leg in a car accident and walks with the help of crutches, said she would queue for as long as it took to vote for the ANC because the government had given her a disability grant.

"I get a grant to help me look after my family and so I want to vote for the party that provides for my children and I."

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