South Africa's ANC in local polls test
South Africans voted Wednesday in local polls seen as a test for the African National Congress, which is battling to overcome growing frustration over enduring poverty 17 years after apartheid.
Voters lined up at polling stations before dawn on a crisp, early winter morning, casting ballots that are expected to give victories to the ANC in most areas but possibly by smaller margins.
Illustrating the troubles with basic services in poor areas, a blackout delayed the start of voting by about 15 minutes in Zandspruit, a shantytown outside Johannesburg that has seen violent protests over shoddy services.
"There is a lot which needs to be done in our area. By voting, we are hoping to address those issues," said Martha Ngwenya, a 47-year-old clerk who was among around 200 people waiting outside.
"There has been a lot of anger in the community over issues of service delivery. Our main concern is lack of housing and refuse that is left uncollected. We want government to help us," she said.
Violent demonstrations have exploded in poor areas with major protests rocketing from just 10 in 2004 to 111 last year, according to research group Municipal IQ.
Such popular anger is expected to dent the ANC's majority, with one opinion poll tipping the party to win 58.9 percent, down seven points from the 2006 local polls, with the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is set to make gains to take just under one-fifth of the ballots.
"It's going to be a turning point for South Africa," DA leader Helen Zille said after casting her ballot in Cape Town. "No party owns any voter permanently."
Despite the widespread concerns about the ANC's performance, many South Africans still cannot imagine leaving the party of Nelson Mandela which led the fight against apartheid.
"It's a party which I like and where my home is. Today I feel liberated because of that party," said Malixole Gobelo, a 60-year-old pensioner who arrived 90 minutes early to cast his ballot in a Cape Town township.
"I will support that party until I die. Because of what they are doing, what they are planning to do and their ideology," he said. "And because I like the icon."
The icon is Mandela, who at 92 is growing frail and rarely seen in public but remains a powerful symbol of South Africa's democratic transition.
President Jacob Zuma used the last day of campaigning Tuesday to visit the Nobel Peace Prize winner at his Johannesburg home, and his legacy was repeatedly invoked during the campaign.
ANC leaders have claimed a non-ANC ballot would worsen Mandela's health, while also threatening ancestral wrath and warning that an opposition vote was one for the devil.
The party controls all major cities except Cape Town, which it lost five years ago to the DA whose leader has called on voters elsewhere to put her party's track-record to the test.
The ANC lost ground in eight out of nine provinces in 2009 general polls. University of Johannesburg analyst Adam Habib warned that if the trend continued, "they could easily lose a number of significant metropoles which would be a symbolic slap in the face".
Derided as white and elitist, Zille has danced and sang at rallies where she trumpeted her party as a model of effective government in Cape Town.
Twelve hours of voting ends at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) at 20,868 polling stations countrywide.
Despite some heated rhetoric, the lead up to the vote has been the most peaceful yet in post-apartheid South Africa, according to the country's Election Monitoring Network.
© 2011 AFP