Polls close in South Africa

Around 29 parties jostle for the votes of about 25 million South Africans registered to participate in the polls.

    Polls have closed in South Africa in a general election that is expected to see the African National Congress (ANC) party retain power, despite a vigorous challenge from opposition parties seeking to capitalise on discontent with corruption and economic inequality.

    Voters young and old stood in long lines across the country on Wednesday, evoking memories of the huge queues that snaked through streets and fields for South Africa's landmark all-race elections in 1994.

    Around 29 parties featuring on the national ballot jostled for the votes of some 25 million South Africans registered to participate in the polls.

    The first results are expected within hours. Officials will declare final results no earlier than Saturday, allowing time to address any objections to the process.

    The election commission said most voting went smoothly.

    Wednesday's election marks 20 years since South Africa's first democratic election following almost five decades of apartheid rule.

    "We're generally seeing a youth that is still quite disillusioned by the current political landscape in South Africa," Lauren Tracey, from the Institute for Security Studies, told Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa.

    "They don't feel as if their vote is going to make a difference."

    Arriving just after 6am to vote at the Ohlange High School in the township Inanda, on the outskirts of Durban, where Nelson Mandela himself cast his ballot in 1994, Shandu Thabisile, said she was nervous about voting.

    "I came here to vote because this is where Mandela voted all those years ago," Thabisile said.

    Another first-time voter, Mbali Mduli, 18, told Al Jazeera: "I am here to cast my vote and try to make a difference. It is exciting."

    The youth vote

    Local radio stations reported that polling stations in Johannesburg, Cape Town had also opened on time.

    Though a lot of emphasis has fallen on the sentiments of the "born frees", or young South Africans born in a free South Africa after 1994, only a third of youth between the ages of 18-20 registered to vote.

    In spite of the social media campaigns and the applications on mobile devices, political parties failed to convince the young to participate, an ANC Youth League spokesperson said.

    But analysts say political scandals and a slow rate of service delivery have made South Africans very cynical about the democratic process.

    One voter, Sithembiso Ngcobo, 21, told Al Jazeera that his generation was disconnected from the struggle against apartheid and did not understand the value of voting.

    Meanwhile, a group of former government ministers and their supporters created a movement to persuade citizens not to vote for the ANC.

    The prominent team made of Zapiro, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, argued that the ANC had lost its way as a liberation party.

    The ANC and its president, Jacob Zuma, have been dogged by allegations of corruption, mismanagement and for presiding over a slowing economy over the past five years.

    Protests against poor service delivery in the townships have also increased under Zuma's tenure. Critics say that the Zuma administration has become self-centred and defensive.

    'Coveted prize'

    In April, the Public Protector found that "Zuma and his family unduly benefited from the upgrades" to his private home, adding that the president should pay back a portion of the cost.

    Despite the criticism, most polls suggest that the ANC is set to win at least 60 percent of the vote, while the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is unlikely to attain more than 20 percent.

    But the ANC encouraged voters not to boycott the polls, citing the sacrifices of those who fought for democracy.

    "For us, the right to vote is a coveted prize that was earned under difficult and painful circumstances," the ANC said.

    Nearly 2,000 military personnel were to assist police in ensuring security during the election.

    Observers were keenly waiting to see if the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party's brazen popularity on the ground would translate into votes.

    The election commission has seven days to declare the results.

    For coverage of Wednesday's election follow our LIVEBLOG , and  Azad Essa on Twitter:  @azadessa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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