Cape Town — Energized by a split in the liberation movement which led South Africa to freedom, voters turned out in huge numbers for the country's fourth democratic elections on Wednesday, forcing electoral officials to keep polling stations open until late in the night in some places.
Results published by early on Thursday showed that voting trends were much as predicted, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) on track to win a comfortable majority, with the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), running in second place, and the prospects uncertain for the Congress of the People (COPE), which was formed by dissatisfied ANC leaders after former president Thabo Mbeki was fired by the ANC last year.
In the most serious incident which has been linked to political tension, COPE's branch secretary in the Port Elizabeth community of Motherwell in the Eastern Cape was shot dead at about 10pm on Wednesday night. COPE said in a statement that the killing of Gerald Yona "appears to be a politically-motivated assassination." The ANC condemned "this criminal act."
With too few results declared to predict with any certainty whether the ANC will retain its two-thirds majority - which would enable it to change the Constitution unilaterally, should it choose to - analysts differed on its chances of doing so.
A leading opinion poll company suggested on the eve of the election that the party would win 67 percent of votes, but noted that the margin of error in its polling showed the figure could vary between 65.34 percent and 68.66 percent. The predictions of analysts on South Africa's television and radio stations on Thursday were close to this range.
The company, Ipsos-Markinor, said that traditionally the ANC benefited from a high turnout and drew substantial support from voters who decided to vote at the last minute.
At 8.30am South African time (06h00 UTC/GMT), 3.3 million votes had been counted, reported the SA Press Association. The ANC won 2.1 million of them, the DA 636,637 and COPE 251,200. Although opinion polls had predicted COPE would run in third place behind the DA - which has its origins in a white liberal opposition party under apartheid, analysts were unanimous that the party would find its support level disappointing.
The Independent Electoral Commission reports that 23 million South Africans registered for the national and provincial elections, which were held on the same day.
In the provinces, where opposition parties hoped to seize control of one or two of the nine provinces from the ANC, early results showed that the DA has good prospects for taking the Western Cape, centred on Cape Town.
The ANC in the province has been in disarray in the last year or two, suffering from internal splits which are to some degree based on racial lines. The province differs from the rest of the country in having a large number of voters classified under apartheid as "coloured" - usually of mixed race or Malay heritage. A pre-election Ipsos-Markinor poll showed ANC support in the region as having plunged from 45 percent to 22 percent in the five years since the last election.
In fourth place in the 8.30am national results on Wednesday was the Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, with 86,503 votes. In its regional stronghold of KwaZulu-Natal, pre-election predictions suggested that it would suffer as calamitous a decline as the ANC in the Western Cape. Ipsos-Markinor polling suggested its support would drop from 37 percent in 2004 to eight percent in this election.
The election of Jacob Zuma as the first ANC leader from KwaZulu-Natal since Chief Albert Luthuli, the 1960 Nobel Peace laureate, has stirred regional and ethnic pride in the province. The adoption of "100% Zuluboy" T-shirts by ANC supporters in the province was one of the issues which triggered attacks on Zuma's rise by COPE founder and former ANC defence minister, Mosiuoa Lekota.