A school in Soweto, the district was once the scene of riots in protest against apartheid

As part of our special coverage of the 2009 South Africa general elections, Al Jazeera's Jane Dutton will be keeping a reporter's diary gauging the mood of the country as 23 million voters head to the polls.

The IEC in Pretoria, Thursday afternoon, April 23, 2009

I'm at the Independant Electoral Commission here in Pretoria, the votes are being counted and tallied as they are put up on a large board in the hall. The main one displays the national results and the other boards are for the rest of the nine provinces.

Electoral officers seated in the hall are counting the votes and then sending them up to all the broadcasters waiting above them. 

There are no big surprises. The ANC are well in the lead, the Democratic Alliance are coming in second and look as though they will definitely secure the Western Cape.

The biggest disappointment has been COPE, the breakaway party. A perceived lack of leadership and a lack of policy seems to have worked against them.

Of course, the official results won't be known any earlier than Saturday. Then, the ANC will announce their leader as president - we know who that is - and Jacob Zuma is going to have to hit the ground running.  

School in Soweto, Wednesday evening, April 22, 2009

I'm at a school in Soweto -  the scene of the 1976 student riots which prompted the government to come down really hard on the black population - a really dark period in South Africa's history.

Today, I'm happy to say it is the scene of one of the thousands of polling stations across the whole of South Africa.

I was talking to many of the voters here who say that they will vote for the ANC despite the fact that very little has changed in 15 years.

They also say that the allegations of rape and corruption against Jacob Zuma, which have been dropped, have not tarnished the ANC campaign in their opinion.

The IEC is predicting that at least 80 per cent of all 23 million registered voters will turn out to vote.

We are expecting official results no earlier than Saturday, but of course it is no big surprise - the next big man of Africa will be Jacob Zuma.

Downtown Johannesburg, Monday evening, April 20, 2009

They were just children when Nelson Mandela led the ANC to power in 1994.

Now the future of the party is in their hands.

Some 6.4 million of the country's 23.1 million registered voters are under the age of 29 and have become a demographic force too important for politicians to ignore.

"We learnt from you that it is 'cool' to be in the ANC and that the ANC 'rocks'!" leader Jacob Zuma told young voters at his final election rally over the weekend.

The 67-year-old spent years in jail and in exile fighting apartheid.

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But young voters we've spoken to say his credentials count for little.

They want to see results: better education, real job prospects and good reason for hope.

One survey of young voters revealed widespread discontent with their leaders.

We went to downtown Johannesburg and found the ANC's multi-storey offices in Luthuli House adorned with a huge poster of Zuma.

His jovial mug smiles down on the people he must attract to vote for him.

But almost a third of voters have little memory of his revolutionary struggle – and few seem to care.

Many youth say they do not identify with Zuma's struggles of years past
They want to hear how Zuma plans to deliver on his promises: tackle rampant crime, poverty and HIV/Aids.

These are problems the ANC has been promising to solve since 1994 – with little success.

Pulling a frail Nelson Mandela on the stage at Sunday's ANC rally was seen by many as exploitation of the aged.

Zuma had clearly hoped to bask in his reflected glory.

With such a strong focus on the man the youth call JZ – his desire to link himself with both the past and the future is obvious.

He has a reputation for being a ladies man – with a trail of wives and with more then 18 children.

But on the eve of South Africa's fourth democratic elections the country's youth are expecting him to take their relationship with them a lot more seriously.

Imizamo Yethu Squatter Camp, near Cape Town, Monday April 20, 2009

"Corrupt and dangerous," one woman said of the man set to become South Africa's new president.

In the shanty towns of this rainbow nation the talk has become all about politics.

With just a few days before the country's 23 million registered voters take to the polls, the man they call JZ – Jacob Zuma – is never far from people's lips.

A recent survey suggests almost 80 per cent of the country's black voters will choose the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. But not all of them are so approving of the party's leader.

Women we meet in the Imizamo Yethu squatter camp on the outskirts of Cape Town say he appeals only to men.

They say they are concerned by rape and corruption charges against Zuma – even though the charges have been dropped.

Nationwide unemployment runs at around 40 per cent but it is even higher in camps like these.

Empty promises

The election posters cling to almost every lamppost, but for some, their promises are hollow words.

"We cannot wait for these politicians … if we want to build a house we do it ourselves,"  says Alex, an out-of-work labourer.

Fifteen years after the ANC took power, housing - along with health and education - remain key challenges.

Shanty towns like Imizamo Yethu have exploded across the county in recent years.

Their growth has been fuelled by an estimated 10 million illegal migrants flooding into South Africa across its porous and often unguarded borders.

Jacob Zuma supporters gather at a rally at the Nyanga township stadium in Cape Town [AFP]
"I do not know so much about the politics – but they must help us," one Angolan immigrant tells me.

South Africa's economy makes up a quarter of the entire continent and for many of these illegal migrants it is seen as the promised land.

The sad reality is that few find jobs and many fall victim to rampant crime and xenophobic violence.

Further down the hill, we find a group of ANC supporters.

A distorting stereo plays the struggle song Bring me my Machine Gun.

It is a favourite of Zuma and his supporters. 

In their green and yellow ANC T-shirts they dance around the yard.

For them Zuma is a hero, a strong charismatic man who speaks on their level, unashamed of his poor rural origins.

For them his leadership is uncontroversial - he is the man for the job.

Source: Al Jazeera