South Africans showed little enthusiasm on Monday for local elections expected to reflect growing discontent with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), marred in corruption scandals and struggling to revive the economy.
Just eight million out of around 26 million registered voters had cast their ballots by the end of the afternoon, suggesting turnout was low.
Polling stations will begin counting as soon as their last voter has been processed, with the first results expected after midnight.
Polls suggest that for the first time since Nelson Mandela’s election ended minority white rule in 1994, a majority of voters could turn against the ANC.
Senior party members, including ex-president Jacob Zuma, face a slew of corruption investigations — the latest linked to coronavirus spending — and unemployment has hit 34.4 percent.
In July, Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt after refusing to testify in a corruption investigation sparked riots and looting that left at least 354 dead.
But for many voters, daily frustrations are at the forefront. Decades of mismanagement have corroded state utilities, causing water cuts and rolling blackouts that interrupted the ANC’s own campaigning.
“Things are really not looking good,” said 38-year-old town planner Khayelihle Ndlovu after casting his vote in downtown Johannesburg.
“I battled in the morning to decide whether to vote or not,” he admitted. “But looking at the leaders that we have and how unprincipled they are, if you vote for them again they are going to continue.”
Voting day was generally peaceful, with only a few incidents reported.
Protests delayed the start of voting in 39 polling stations in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, with residents blocking road access until the police dispersed them.
– ANC ‘clean-up’ –
Only 65 percent of eligible voters bothered to register to elect local councillors in 257 municipalities.
Masego Molebatsina, a 19-year-old student, said she was not going to vote. “I feel that it’s a waste of time.”
Instead she used the public holiday declared for the voting to get an anti-Covid jab.
Authorities have set up nearly 1,000 pop-up clinics near polling stations across the country to boost vaccination uptake.
In some places, they turned out to be busier than the voting booths.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and other top ANC leaders have campaigned across the country, including in small towns.
Their focus this past week has been on the capital Pretoria and financial hub Johannesburg, which the ANC lost for the first time in the last local elections in 2016.
That year, the party won just under 54 percent of the vote nationally, its worst-ever electoral showing.
“We have not realised the aspirations of our people,” Ramaphosa said after casting his ballot in Soweto. “We are going to do better.”
Throughout the campaign, Ramaphosa has been trying to convince voters that they are “cleaning up the party”.
He said he expected an “overwhelming victory” for the ANC.
But pre-election polling has suggested that the party’s popularity will keep sliding.
– Divided opposition –
Zuma cast his ballot near his country estate, urging his supporters to support the ANC despite his prosecution on corruption charges.
“There was some doubt, and I made a clarion call that all men and women should go to vote because the ANC will always be around,” Zuma told reporters.
While the ANC’s popularity is slipping, the opposition is fractured.
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is widely seen as a party for whites.
It has formed unlikely coalitions with the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters.
But the local governments they have set up together are often criticised for spending more time bickering than working to provide services.
Coalitions “always end up badly,” DA leader John Steenhuisen admitted after voting in Durban.
A record 1,700 of the 60,000 candidates in Monday’s races are independents, reflecting disenchantment with the mainstream parties.
Their performance will set the stage for general elections in 2024.
“We’d rather have change,” said Siyanda Mzolo, a 27-year-old mechanics student struggling to find work.
“They’re not doing anything to ensure that everyone else’s lives are in order.” @AFP
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