South Africans go to the polls on April 22 in their fourth general election since the end of apartheid 15 years ago. Read our quick guide to the voting system and the country's journey towards democracy.
|Nearly 23 million registered voters are expected to head to the polls on April 22 [GETTY]
South Africa has been a parliamentary democracy since April 1994 when the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party took office.
Before the ANC came to power, the National Party (NP), which introduced apartheid to exercise control over the country's economic and social system, had been in power since June 4, 1948.
The NP was founded in 1914 by Afrikaner nationalists after the establishment of the Union of South Africa, which eventually became the Republic of South Africa.
After the enactment of apartheid laws in 1948, racial discrimination was institutionalised, with black and coloured South Africans barred from voting.
Race laws touched every aspect of life, including a prohibition of marriage between non-whites and whites and the sanctioning of "white-only" jobs.
A government ban on the ANC was lifted in 1990 and it began to establish branch and regional structures of its members. In 1991, at the party's national conference, Nelson Mandela was elected ANC president.
Three years later, the first ever multi-racial elections were held with Mandela – released in 1990 after spending 28-years in prison for his political activities - representing the ANC.
The ANC has dominated the political landscape since it assumed power.
It is hugely popular among black South Africans, who form the bulk of the country's 49 million people, and they associate it with their freedom and liberation. The party's ideas are based on African nationalism.
Elections in South Africa are held every five years, but political parties do not field candidates.
Instead, parties compete for seats in provincial and national legislatures under a system of proportional representation.
|Jacob Zuma, third from left, is widely expected to become South Africa's next president [EPA]
A party secures a seat in the national parliament for every 1,000 votes it gets. In other words, the party with the most votes gets the most seats.
South Africa has nine provinces which are represented in the national government by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
Each province has 10 representatives in the council. When a province has a proposal, it asks the council to put it before the national parliament, which decides and votes on the proposal.
Voters cast two votes by secret ballot - one for the provincial and the second for the national legislature. The voters choose the party they want to lead them.
The party that wins the highest number of seats in the national assembly or parliament forms the government.
The leader of the party usually becomes president of the country and must have won a seat in the national assembly. South Africa's national assembly has 400 seats.
There are 40 political parties taking part in the elections but only 26 of these will contest the national assembly. At least 23 million voters will be casting their ballots.
The major election issues include crime, which is rampant, and HIV/Aids, which claims anywhere between 800 and 1,000 lives every day, according to the Treatment Action Campaign.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Congress of the People (Cope) - a breakaway faction of the ANC formed in the run-up to the elections - are the main opposition parties. The Cope will be participating in the April 22 elections for the first time.
Other opposition parties include the Inkatha Freedom party, the United Democratic Movement, the Independent Democrats, the Pan-African Congress and the African Christian Democratic party.