South Africa votes in local polls amid frustration
South Africans voted in local polls Wednesday with growing anger over corruption scandals and poor basic services expected to dent support for the powerful ruling African National Congress.
Voters lined up well before dawn in the winter cold to cast their ballots after a campaign of heated rhetoric as the party of Nelson Mandela scrambled to shore up support following an explosion of anti-government protests.
“There has been a lot of anger in the community over issues of service delivery,” said Martha Ngwenya, a 47-year-old clerk who was among around 200 people waiting for polling stations to open at 7:00 am (0500 GMT).
“Our main concern is lack of housing and refuse that is left uncollected. We want government to help us,” she said at Zandspruit, a shantytown outside Johannesburg that has seen several violent protests over shoddy services.
Illustrating the complaints, a power blackout delayed the start of 12 hours of voting at her polling by 15 minutes.
“There is a lot which needs to be done in our area. By voting, we are hoping to address those issues,” Ngwenya said.
The ANC has ruled since Mandela won the first all-race elections in 1994 but has been criticised over rampant unemployment, corruption and a failure to keep essential services running.
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.
The anger is expected to loosen the ANC’s majority with one opinion poll tipping the party to win 58.9 percent, down seven points from the 2006 local polls.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), successor to a liberal white party that opposed apartheid, is set to make gains to take just under one-fifth of the ballots, the poll said.
“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.”
President Jacob Zuma — who has told voters a ballot for the opposition would be one for the devil and they risked their ancestors’ ire unless they chose his party — said he was confident the ANC would make gains.
“I am very optimistic because we have made serious advances. We will surprise many,” Zuma said after voting in his home village of Nkandla, according to the Sapa news agency.
Many South Africans still cannot imagine leaving the ANC, the party which led them to overcome decades of white-minority rule.
“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.
Zuma used the last day of campaigning Tuesday to visit the Nobel Peace Prize winner at his Johannesburg home.
The ANC controls all major cities except Cape Town, but 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.
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.
Two cases of arson were reported at polling stations overnight but police said they had not affected the vote.
Voting was likely to be extended in Johannesburg, where ballot papers arrived late at some stations.