South Africans vote and many hope for a change as radical as the rise of Mandela

Tension, excitement and uncertainty consumed South Africa on Wednesday as millions of people cast their votes in an election that could end the monopoly on power of the African National Congress, the party that has ruled since it led the defeat of apartheid 30 years ago. .

Party volunteers worked feverishly to maintain their majority, transporting voters to polling stations, extolling the party’s virtues with speakers in vans and handing out bright yellow party T-shirts. Senior party officials chanted slogans alongside these foot soldiers, as if rallying them for battle.

Pollsters have widely predicted that the party will win by a majority but get less than 50 percent of the vote for the first time. If that happens, you will be forced to ally with one or more parties to form a government and stay in power.

Voters are electing a National Assembly, which will decide whether to retain or remove President Cyril Ramaphosa. They are also electing provincial legislators. The results are expected to be announced this weekend.

With 51 parties challenging the African National Congress (ANC) on the national ballot, voters were inundated with options, adding to the suspense for individual voters and the nation.

“Can you believe here I am and I’m still not sure who to vote for?” said Kedibone Makhubedu, 47, while queuing outside a community center in Soweto township.

Mrs Makhubedu, who works for an insurance company, said she had always voted ANC but is worried about the economy and her 17-year-old daughter’s livelihood prospects.

“It’s the first time I’m really torn,” she said.

At tens of thousands of voting centers across the country, colorful party flags fluttered in the wind. Party volunteers played anthems from the anti-apartheid era and danced the well-known dance known as toyi-toyi.

Opposition party supporters hoped this vote would produce a turning point for South Africa as seismic as when Nelson Mandela ascended to the presidency with the ANC after the first democratic elections in 1994.

“Today I feel the same emotion that I felt in 1994,” said Beki Zulu, who voted Wednesday for the first time since that first election. He said that this year he was inspired by Jacob Zuma, the former South African president and ANC leader who now heads a new separatist party, uMkhonto weSizwe.

This ritual of democracy was taking place in a country that looks very different than it did when this exercise was first carried out, but is filled with many of the same anxieties: unemployment, homelessness, poor educational opportunities. .

Voters left polling stations with ink-stained thumbs demanding change, even those who stayed with the ANC.

For the first time, South Africans had the option to vote for independent candidates who were not running on party lists and had to fill out three long ballots, instead of two. The new system caused delays at many polling stations, with voters waiting in slow, snaking lines.

Jenneth Makhathini waited for her polling station to open in the village of Siweni, in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, standing on a paved road, surrounded by power lines and houses made of concrete, none of which existed the first time she did line to vote three decades ago. Back then, the houses were made of mud, the roads were gravel and the light came from candles.

Despite embracing modernization, she reluctantly voted for the ANC this year, disillusioned that young people struggle to find work, salaries are low and public hospitals are overwhelmed.

“I am doing it, but there is less hope now,” Makhathini, a 54-year-old educator, said of voting for the ruling party.

But even as the party’s popularity has fallen due to deteriorating living conditions and corruption, voters have not been able to let it go so easily.

During previous election cycles, South Africans said, they largely assumed the ANC would maintain its absolute majority. But the party, which won nearly 58 percent in the last vote in 2019, has been polling below 40 percent this year, fueling greater expectation that something could change in this election, voters said.

The weak poll numbers have also motivated ANC officials, who focused during the campaign on engaging disenchanted supporters who had stopped turning out to vote. Since turnout seemed strong at many polling stations, it was anyone’s guess whether it was a good sign for the ruling party (indicating that its supporters were turning out again) or for its many rivals, who hope to activate new voters.

A former ANC liberation fighter decided to run in these elections, after the last vote in 1994. But it was not because of his former party.

Isaac Modise, who was voting in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, said he supported Zuma’s party. It was his way of motivating the ANC to improve, Modise, 66, said.

“We want the ANC to come back and be a people’s organization,” he said.

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