JOHANNESBURG: Millions of determined South Africans — including hundreds of thousands of first-time “born free” voters — turned out in “extremely high” numbers for a landmark general election yesterday.
Twenty years after South Africans of all colours wowed the world by voting to end apartheid, they shrugged off sporadic violence to cast their ballots in the first poll since the death of democratic hero Nelson Mandela.
His African National Congress is widely expected to claim a fifth consecutive term in power, but strong turnout in South Africa’s cities could prove a boon for the party’s political foes.
Vote watchdog, the Independent Electoral Commission, reported “extremely high turnout at voting stations, especially those in urban and metro areas where long queues continue to be experienced.”
That could cost the ANC as much as five percentage points, according to pollsters IPSOS, and aid the centrist Democratic Alliance and left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters.
Anything less than 60 percent for the ANC would be seen as a major upset and raise questions about President Jacob Zuma’s leadership.
Commentators have billed this election as the last to be dominated by the memory of apartheid.
A new generation of South Africans — numbering around two million, with around 646,000 registered to vote — were born after the end of apartheid and will cast their ballots for the first time. “I am kind of nervous, thinking ‘Have I made a good decision or not?’” said Lesedi Nene aged 19.
A record 25 million voters registered for the elections despite mounting anger over joblessness, inequality and corruption.
“People died for this right. They must not waste it,” said Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, a liberation struggle veteran who has said openly he will not vote for the ANC this time.
The eve of the ballot was marred by isolated incidents of violence, with police and 1,850 troops deployed to several areas to keep order.
In Bekkersdal near Soweto, protesters threw rocks at police vehicles and set fire to a polling station.
But an umbrella group of police, military and election authorities said the election nationally was “proceeding smoothly”. And in Bekkersdal, residents vowed not to be dissuaded from voting. They poured into the township’s 15 polling centres, many on foot and some pushed in wheelchairs and wheelbarrows.
In the cool early morning mist, some voters danced in celebration amid the charred husk of the polling station, disregarding the detritus of the previous night’s anger. “We should fight with our votes, let our votes do the talking, not violence,” said Mziwamadoda Ngceke, proudly sporting the purple-blue indelible mark on his right thumb that showed he had voted.
Casting his ballot in his home village of Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma expressed hope that “all voters will cast their votes without any problems because this is our right, which we
fought for.” AFP