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South Africans Vote in Most Competitive Election Since End of Apartheid

South Africans have begun voting in a crucial election, with the ANC to potentially lose parliamentary majority after 30 years.

South Africans headed to the polls on Wednesday in the most competitive election since the end of apartheid. Opinion polls suggest the African National Congress (ANC) could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years.

Polling stations in major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban saw early queues forming around 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), with lines also visible in townships and rural areas.

Voters cited high unemployment, crime, frequent power outages, and corruption as reasons for considering opposition parties. However, some, like 62-year-old pensioner Charles Louw, remained loyal to the ANC. 

“The ANC has experience and knows how to manage things. But new parties, where will they start?” he said after voting in Alexandra, near Johannesburg.

“I grew up loving the ANC because of how they fought for the freedom we have today,” said Skhumbuzo Mnyandu, a 48-year-old business owner in KwaMashu, near Durban. “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,” referring to uMkhonto we Sizwe, a new party backed by former president Jacob Zuma.

The ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, first came to power in South Africa’s multi-racial election in 1994 and has maintained a majority in national elections every five years since. However, its share of the vote has gradually declined. If it falls below 50% this time, the ANC may need to form coalitions with smaller parties, presenting new challenges for the country’s young democracy.

In addition to electing provincial assemblies, South Africans are voting for a new national parliament, which will choose the next president. Despite the ANC still leading in polls, President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to stay in office.

Over 27 million South Africans are registered to vote at more than 23,000 polling stations, open until 9 p.m. “We may match or surpass the 66% voter turnout seen in the last election in 2019,” said Masego Sheburi, a senior electoral commission official, six hours into the election. The election seemed to be progressing smoothly, with 93% of polling stations opening on time. There were isolated issues, such as voters being turned away in Johannesburg due to registration problems and delays in Alexandra caused by late ballot paper arrivals.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), the second-largest party in the last election, called on voters to support change. “This is the most consequential election since 1994,” he said in Durban.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, are another significant opposition party aiming to challenge the ANC. The EFF advocates for nationalising mines and banks and redistributing land from white farmers. “We’re here to take over government,” Malema declared in Seshego, Limpopo, aiming to “remove the ANC.”

Polls indicate the EFF holds 10-12% support, while the ANC ranges between 37-44%. Despite the EFF’s lower polling, Malema could play a crucial role in forming a coalition.

Former president Zuma’s new MK party is also expected to impact ANC and EFF support, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, where Zuma remains influential despite his resignation in 2018 amid scandals.

The election commission will begin releasing partial results soon after polling stations close, with final results expected within three or four days.


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