JOHANNESBURG (AFP) ―With more than 20 percent of votes counted in South Africa’s landmark general election, the ruling ANC appeared set to win a fifth consecutive term in office Thursday, but with a significantly reduced margin.
After millions of determined South Africans ― including hundreds of thousands of first-time “born free” voters ― turned out in force, the ANC was ahead with more than two million ballots counted by 0330 GMT.
The African National Congress held 56 percent of the vote, down signficantly from the 66 percent it won at the last election, amid successive scandals surrounding its leader President Jacob Zuma.
The opposition Democratic Alliance was seen nearly doubling its share of the popular vote to 30 percent, although the tallies could still change significantly.
Twenty years after South Africans of all colours wowed the world by voting to end apartheid, they had shrugged off sporadic violence to cast their ballots Wednesday in the first poll since the death of democratic hero Nelson Mandela.
His African National Congress was widely expected to win, but strong turnout in South Africa’s cities could prove a boon for the party’s political foes.
Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Election Commission, said voting “proceeded without serious incident in almost all areas.
“Very high volume of voters were reported in metro areas throughout the country.”
Anything less than 60 percent for the ANC would be seen as a major upset and raise questions about Zuma’s leadership.
Casting his ballot in his home village of Nkandla, Zuma said he expected the “results will be very good” but conceded the campaign had been “very challenging.”
Zuma has been a lightning rod for criticism of the ANC and has been pilloried for the government spending $23 million of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his private home.
Commentators have billed this election as the last to be dominated by the memory of apartheid.
A new generation of South Africans -- numbering around two million, with around 646,000 registered to vote -- were born after the end of apartheid and cast their ballots for the first time.
“I am kind of nervous, thinking ‘Have I made a good decision or not?’” said Lesedi Nene aged 19.