JOHANNESBURG, May 7 – Up to 25 million South Africans – including a “born free” generation electing a government for the first time – are expected to vote Wednesday in polls marked by nostalgic rhetoric and voter fury.
Twenty years after South Africans of all colours wowed the world by voting to end centuries of racist rule, they will turn out to 22,263 polling centres to elect lawmakers and, in turn, a democratic president.
As in 1994 and the three subsequent elections, the African National Congress is expected to win handily.
The party’s electoral pitch has relied heavily on past anti-Apartheid glories and on the outpouring of grief over the death of its former leader Nelson Mandela to shore up support.
“Do it for Madiba, Vote ANC!” read one prominent campaign poster, referring to the late statesman by his clan name.
But throughout the campaign the party’s heroic past has collided with South Africa’s harsh present, with the ANC unable to assuage anger at government corruption, high unemployment and poor basic services.
On the eve of the vote, protesters threw rocks and set fire to a polling station in Bekkersdal near Soweto, where police and the army have been deployed to keep order.
Many commentators have billed this election as the last to be dominated by South Africa’s post-apartheid past.
The exact outcome will depend on turnout and on how the roughly one million South Africans who never knew apartheid will cast their ballots.
“Every party has its pros and its cons, so I need to just take some time and think about what is relevant to me,” said young voter Mealyn Joyce.
“I’m not voting on a historical basis, I’m voting on what I think I need as a young person.”
Polls show many are disaffected with the country’s current crop of leaders and are willing to consider the opposition Democratic Alliance or left-wing firebrand Julius Malema. READ: South Africa’s ANC headed for another landslide win.
Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters Party is less than a year old, but has electrified the left and according to research firm Pondering Panda has backing of 25 percent of youth.
It has tapped into anger that the lot of many black South Africans has not improved since the advent of democracy in 1994 and left-wing disenchantment with ANC’s broadly pro-market policies.
“Tomorrow go to your voting station to vote for a change,” he told voters in the restive platinum belt on Tuesday.