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Video by Luke SHRAGO

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-04-23

South Africans voted in the country's fourth general election since the end of apartheid. The ANC’s Jacob Zuma is widely expected to win. Counting at nearly 20,000 poll stations starts after closing, with early results expected soon after.

South Africans voted Wednesday in an election that poses the toughest challenge to the ruling ANC (African National Congress) since the advent of multiracial democracy in 1994.


"In 14 years, there hasn’t been a campaign as passionate and exciting in South Africa," said FRANCE 24’s Caroline Dumay, reporting from Cape Town.


While the ANC, led by Jacob Zuma, looks set to win its fourth consecutive election, the party is facing an unprecedented challenge from the opposition Democratic Alliance as well as a new party formed by ANC dissidents.


Backed by the success of its historic struggle against apartheid, the ANC is assured of a majority of seats in the South African parliament. But it may not retain its current 293 seats in the 400-seat parliament. If this majority were to be reduced to 65 or even 60%, it would be less than the two-thirds majority required to make constitutional changes.


The opposition Democratic Alliance has suggested that if the ANC retains its two-thirds majority, it might change the constitution to protect Zuma from prosecution on corruption allegations. But Zuma has denied that his party is seeking a constitutional change.


In December, anti-Zuma ANC dissidents created a new party,  the Congress of the People (COPE). But analysts say Mvume Dandala, COPE’s presidential candidate, is relatively unknown and not as charismatic as Zuma. Nevertheless, the debates and divisions within the ANC have undoubtedly fed the exceptional enthusiasm for these elections, says Dumay.


"I came here at 12 midnight because I wanted to be the first in line so I can go back home and listen to the radio to see how the party I voted for is doing," said 46-year-old Ntombi Mthetho to AFP in Alexandra, a central Johannesburg township.

At daybreak this morning, dozens of people formed long queues at some 20,000 polling stations in the country. Both Zuma and Mandela voted earlier today.

Man of the people


A charismatic 67-year-old politician, Zuma has been leading in the pre-election opinion polls. But the ANC’s presidential candidate has been dogged by corruption charges.

While the charges have affected his standing among the country’s intellectual and business elite, "JZ", as he’s known to supporters, is still popular among poorer voters in a country where 43% of the 48.5 million-strong population live below the poverty line.

"People, by loyalty and habits, will vote for the ANC without really wanting to choose Jacob Zuma for president," says Dumay.



Date created : 2009-04-22