Home Politics The counting of votes in South Africa’s elections is considered the most...

The counting of votes in South Africa’s elections is considered the most important since apartheid

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The counting of votes in South Africa’s elections is considered the most important since apartheid

JOHANNESBURG – South Africans voted Wednesday at schools, community centers and in large white tents set up in open fields in an election seen as their country’s most important since apartheid ended 30 years ago. It could take the young democracy into unknown territory.

At stake is the three-decade dominance of the African National Congress party, which led South Africa from the brutal white minority rule of apartheid to democracy in 1994. The party is now the target of a new generation of discontent in a country of 62 million people. – half of whom are estimated to live in poverty.

After casting his vote, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he had no doubt his ANC would win again with “a solid majority”.

The main opposition leader, Johannes Steenhuisencountered: “For the first time in thirty years, there is now a path to victory for the opposition.”

The elections took place on one day and polls closed after 14 hours of voting at more than 23,000 polling stations in South Africa’s nine provinces. Counting begins, but final results are not expected for days. The Independent Electoral Commission leading the elections said they would be announced on Sunday.

The ANC has seen its support decline in previous elections as Africa’s most advanced economy faces some of the world’s worst socio-economic problems. It has one of the highest unemployment rates at 32% and persistent inequality, with poverty disproportionately affecting the black majority, now threatens to dethrone the party that promised to end it by abolishing apartheid under the slogan of a better life for everyone.

“Our main problem here in our community is the lack of jobs,” said Samuel Ratshalingwa, who sat at the front of the queue at the same school in Johannesburg’s Soweto township where Ramaphosa voted. He arrived well before the polls opened at 7 a.m. on a cold winter morning.

“We must use the vote to make our voices heard on this issue,” Ratshalingwa said.

After winning six consecutive national elections, several opinion polls put the ANC’s support at less than 50% before this vote, an unprecedented drop. It could lose its majority in parliament for the first time, although it is widely expected to take the most seats.

The ANC won 57.5% of the vote in the last national election in 2019, its worst result yet and down from a high of almost 70% in 2004. That loss of support has been attributed to widespread poverty, but also ANC corruption scandals, high crime rates and the failure of basic government services, leaving many communities without running water, electricity or proper housing. Some polling stations were even hit by electricity outages, officials said.

Ramaphosa, the leader of the ANC, has vowed to “do better”.

Ramaphosa, 71, sat with other voters in Soweto, where he was born and which was once the center of resistance to apartheid. He shook hands with two smiling officials who registered him before voting.

“I have no doubt in my heart that the people will once again place their trust in the African National Congress to continue to lead this country,” Ramaphosa said.

Any change in the ANC’s grip on power could be monumental for South Africa. If it loses its majority, the ANC will likely face the prospect of a coalition with others to stay in government and retain Ramaphosa for a second term as president. The ANC having to co-govern has never happened before.

South Africans vote for parties, not directly for their president. The parties are then given seats in parliament based on their share of the vote, and lawmakers elect the president. Nearly 28 million people were registered to vote and the electoral commission said there were early indications that turnout was high. Long lines remained at some polling stations well into the night. People were allowed to vote if they were in line before the closing time of 9 p.m.

The opposition to the ANC is fierce, but fragmented. The two largest opposition parties, the centrist Democratic Alliance and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, are not expected to increase their vote numbers enough to overtake the ANC.

This is largely because disaffected South Africans are switching to a range of opposition parties; more than 50 will run in the national elections, many of which are new. One is led by South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma, who has turned against his former ANC allies.

Steenhuisen, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, said South Africa was now moving towards becoming a “coalition country”. He admitted his party was unlikely to win a majority, but relied on a pre-election deal with other smaller parties to combine their votes to oust the ANC.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve South Africa’s problems by keeping the same people around the same table and making the same bad decisions for the same bad results,” Steenhuisen said.

The ANC says it is confident of retaining its majority and analysts have not ruled that out, given the party’s unparalleled campaign machine. There is still broad support.

“I woke up at 4am this morning, took a bath and went out,” said 68-year-old Velaphi Banda, adding that he has voted for the ANC since 1994 and would do so again. “I have never had any doubts about which party I would vote for. I always knew it.”

Ramaphosa has pointed out that South Africa is a much better country now than it was under apartheid, when black people were not allowed to vote, move freely, have to live in certain areas and were oppressed in every way. This election is only the seventh national vote in South Africa in which people of all races are allowed to participate.

Memories of that era of apartheid and the decisive elections that ended it in 1994 still determine a large part of everyday South Africa. But as time goes on, fewer people remember this, and this election could give a voice to a new generation.

“I feel like there are just no opportunities for young people in this area,” says 27-year-old Innocentia Zitha from her neighborhood.

Although 80% of South Africans are black, it is a multiracial country with significant populations of white people, people of Indian descent, people from biracial backgrounds and more. There are 12 official languages.

The vote will also highlight the country’s contradictions, from the economic hub of Johannesburg – billed as Africa’s richest city – to the picturesque tourist destination of Cape Town, to the informal settlements of shacks in the suburbs, and the more remote rural areas. In one in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, 72-year-old grandmother Thembekile Ngema and others walked 20 minutes over rolling hills to get to their polling station.

South Africa has held peaceful and credible elections since the violent run-up to the crucial 1994 elections, but nearly 3,000 soldiers were deployed across the country to ensure orderly conduct, authorities said.

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