Three to watch in South Africa's elections
A total of 33 political parties plan to contest South Africa's general election on Wednesday, 20 years after the end of apartheid.
Here we look briefly at the leaders of the two main contenders and an upstart party whose performance will be closely watched.
JACOB ZUMA, ANC
President Jacob Zuma, 72, who heads the African National Congress, is virtually assured of re-election for a second five-year term.
Zuma's personal image has been dented by a series of corruption scandals and he faces growing criticism over a failure to address widespread poverty and unemployment.
But Zuma does not stand as an individual for president, he stands as head of the ANC -- which remains by far the strongest party in a country where it is still revered for its late leader Nelson Mandela and its role in ending apartheid.
A recent opinion poll predicted that the ANC will increase its tally from 64.9 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2009 to 65.5 percent, although that runs counter to forecasts by many analysts who see the ANC losing at least a few percentage points.
The son of a domestic worker, Zuma enjoys loyalty from millions of ANC grassroots supporters awed by his journey from uneducated cattle herder to president, with a 10-year stint as an apartheid-era political prisoner along the way.
His popularity is also enhanced -- among traditionalists at least -- by his propensity for breaking into song and dance at a moment's notice and swapping his suits for Zulu warrior gear at traditional ceremonies in his home village.
HELEN ZILLE, DA
Former political journalist and anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille, 63, leads the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance.
Under her leadership, the centrist DA scored the only victory against the African National Congress in general elections in the past 20 years by winning power in the Western Cape province in 2009.
As Western Cape premier Zille has pushed to prove that the DA, a successor to the liberal anti-apartheid Progressive Party, can overcome its image as a party for whites and the elite.
Growing numbers of black South Africans among the rank-and-file and leadership indicate that the party is having some success, and opinion polls suggest it will increase its share of the vote to around 23 percent from 16 percent in the 2009 elections.
Zille, a diminutive blonde who wears firetruck red lipstick, speaks fluent Xhosa and dances to traditional South African beats at rallies. She is an energetic campaigner and was recently photographed climbing a pole to put up posters.
The daughter of German immigrants, she joined the DA in the 1990s when it was still known as the Democratic Party and was elected to parliament in 2004.
JULIUS MALEMA, EFF
The performance of populist firebrand Julius Malema, 33, and his Economic Freedom Fighters will be closely watched by the ANC, jittery whites and international investors.
Malema, former enfant terrible of the ANC youth league, launched the EFF last year after he was kicked out of the ruling party for coming into conflict with the leadership.
Now he draws thousands of supporters to rallies where he demands the seizure of land from the white minority without compensation and the nationalisation of the mines and banks, sending shivers through Africa's most developed economy.
Wearing a red beret -- and Louis Vuitton shoes -- Malema rides a growing wave of discontent among the poorest of South Africans 20 years after the ANC's ascent to power with promises of a better life for all.
As EFF "Commander in Chief", Malema dismisses criticism of his own lavish lifestyle -- designer outfits, luxury cars, upmarket homes -- by saying that he wants to inspire the poor and cannot do that if he also lives in a shack.
Shortly after being thrown out of the ANC Malema, who grew up poor in the northern province of Limpopo, was accused of corruption and slapped with a $1.6 million dollar unpaid tax bill.
Opinion polls suggest the EFF could win around four percent of the vote in the elections, which would be enough to put Malema and about 15 of his comrades in the 400-seat parliament under the proportional representation system.
But Malema faces sequestration over his tax bill and a possible jail sentence on fraud charges -- either of which would see him lose his seat.
© 2014 AFP