South Africans cast votes in most competitive election since end of apartheid

Opinion polls suggest African National Congress could lose parliamentary majority after 30 years in government

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.

Queues formed in the main cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as polling got under way around 5am Irish time, 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, but others 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.

Then led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC swept to power in South Africa's first multiracial 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 per cent 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 where voting will continue until 7pm Irish time.

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 a senior official at the electoral commission saying 93 per cent 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 at a polling station in Soweto, a huge township outside Johannesburg, Mr 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.

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.

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. – Reuters