The count is underway after a major survey

Farouk Chothia,BBC News, Johannesburg

AFP Voters cast their votes at a polling station on May 29, 2024, during South Africa's general elections.  South Africans will vote on May 29, 2024 in what could be the most consequential election in decades, as dissatisfaction with the ruling ANC threatens to end its 30-year political dominance.AFP

Voters of all generations were eager to cast their ballots.

Votes are being counted after what is considered the closest election in South Africa since the African National Congress (ANC) came to power 30 years ago.

Long queues formed in front of polling stations throughout the country.

An electoral official in Johannesburg told the BBC that the queues were reminiscent of the historic 1994 election, when black people were able to vote for the first time and in which Nelson Mandela became president.

Many people were still waiting to vote when the polls officially closed at 9:00 p.m. local time (7:00 p.m. GMT), but the electoral commission said everyone would be allowed to cast their vote.

The first results will begin to come in Thursday morning and final results are expected over the weekend.

The ANC has lost support due to anger over high levels of corruption, crime and unemployment. Opinion polls suggest he could lose his majority in parliament.

Sifiso Buthelezi, who voted at Joubert Park in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest polling station, told the BBC: “Freedom is great, but we have to tackle corruption.”

Change has been a recurring sentiment, especially among young voters.

Ayanda Hlekwane, a member of South Africa’s “born free” generation, meaning those born after 1994, said that despite having three university degrees, she still does not have a job.

“I’m working on my PhD proposal so I can go back to study in case I don’t get a job,” he tells the BBC in Durban.

But Hlekwane said he was optimistic that things would change.

A record 70 parties and 11 independents turned out, and South Africans voted for a new parliament and nine provincial legislatures.

Analysts say this shows that many people are disillusioned with the ANC.

“We are entering the next phase of our democracy and it will be a big transition,” political analyst Richard Calland told the BBC.

“Either we will become a more competitive and mature democracy, or our politics will become more fractured.”

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has signed a pact with 10 other parties, agreeing to form a coalition government if they win enough votes to dislodge the ANC from power.

But this is highly unlikely as the ANC is expected to remain the largest party, putting it in pole position to lead a coalition if its support falls below 50%.

It won 57.5% of the vote in the last election, compared to 21% for the DA.

South Africans do not vote directly for a president. Instead, they vote for members of parliament who will then elect the president.

Current President Cyril Ramaphosa is therefore likely to remain in power.

South African elections: here’s what voters said

Former president Jacob Zuma caused a huge stir when he announced in December that he was leaving the ANC to campaign for a new party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), which translates as Spear of the Nation.

Although he has been banned from running for parliament due to a contempt of court conviction, his name still appeared on ballot papers as MK leader.

The MP is expected to do especially well in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, where tensions have been high and some incidents of violence have been reported during the campaign.

Police and the military have been deployed to polling stations across the country to ensure that voting takes place peacefully and that ballots are not stolen.

More than 27 million people were registered to vote, of whom 55% were women, according to statistics published by the electoral commission.

In terms of age group, voter registration was highest among those between 30 and 39 years old. They represent almost seven million of the 26.7 million voters.

Young people could tilt this election in their favor.

Artist Njabulo Hlophe, 28, said young people in South Africa tend to be marginalized, but “this is as much our country as our parents… they leave it to us, so someone who really cares about young people is someone I’m really looking at.”

Support for the ANC is expected to be higher among the older generation.

An 89-year-old woman, Elayne Dykman, told the BBC in Durban that she hoped South Africa’s young people would not take their vote for granted.

Additional reporting by Anne Soy in Durban and Barbara Plett Usher in Soweto

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