South Africans voted on Wednesday in the most competitive election since the end of apartheid, with opinion polls suggesting the African National Congress (ANC) could lose its parliamentary majority after 30 years in government.

Queues formed in the main cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban as polling got underway around 7 a.m. (0500 GMT), with lines also seen in the morning cold in townships on the outskirts of cities and in rural areas.

“I want to see change in South Africa,” said Bongile Mkunqa, 53, an unemployed man who came to vote in Langa, the oldest Black township in Cape Town.

“We must get more jobs. I am not feeling happy now because I am struggling. It is a long time the ANC is in charge in the country, but it didn’t change.”

Voters at polling stations across the country cited high rates of unemployment and crime, frequent power blackouts and corruption in ANC ranks as reasons why they would vote for opposition parties, but others were wary of change.

“Since voting started (in 1994) I have voted and I have been voting for only one party, the ANC,” said Charles Louw, 62, a pensioner who was voting in Alexandra, a sprawling township east of Johannesburg.

He said he distrusted the promises made by opposition parties to create jobs, end power cuts or crack down on crime.

“The ANC have been trying to do it, they are there, they have got experience, they know how to accommodate everything. But the new parties, where will they start?” he said.

Then led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC swept to power in South Africa’s first multi-racial election in 1994 and has won a majority in national elections held every five years since then, though its share of the vote has gradually declined.

If it falls short of 50% this time, the ANC will have to make a deal with one or more smaller parties to govern – uncharted and potentially choppy waters for a young democracy that has so far been dominated by a single party.

The ANC is still on course to win the largest share of the vote, meaning that its leader President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to remain in office, unless he faces an internal challenge if the party’s performance is worse than expected.

More than 27 million South Africans are registered to vote at more than 23,000 polling stations located in schools, sports centres and even a funeral parlour in Pretoria. Voting will continue until 9 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Voters will elect provincial assemblies in each of the country’s nine provinces, and a new national parliament which will then choose the next president.


After voting at a polling station in Soweto, a huge township outside Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said the ANC had run a strong campaign.

“I have no doubt whatsoever in my heart of hearts that the people will invest their confidence in the African National Congress,” he said.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) party which won the second-largest share of the vote in the last election in 2019, urged voters to turn out in large numbers to bring change to South Africa.

“This is the most consequential election since 1994,” he said after casting his ballot in Durban.

Asked about potential coalitions, Steenhuisen said that if the electoral maths allowed it would be preferable for parties other than the ANC to come together to govern – an outcome that seems highly unlikely, based on opinion polls.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve the problems of South Africa by keeping the same people around the same table making the same bad decisions with the same bad results for South Africa,” he said.

Etienne Olivier, 64, a logistics manager wearing a shirt with prints of the South African flag, said he was voting for the DA because it had a good record of competent governance in the Western Cape province, the sole province not controlled by the ANC.

“They seem the only reasonable solution that can sort this out, the corruption and whatever’s happening in South Africa,” he said after casting his ballot in Johannesburg.

Other opposition parties hoping to loosen the ANC’s grip on power include the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), founded by Julius Malema, a firebrand former leader of the ANC’s youth wing. They want to nationalise mines and banks and seize land from white farmers to address racial and economic disparities.

Former president Jacob Zuma has fallen out with the ANC and is backing a new party called uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), named after the ANC’s former armed wing. Zuma, who was forced to quit as president in 2018 after a string of scandals, has enduring influence, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The election commission is expected to start releasing partial results within hours of polling stations closing. The commission has seven days to announce final results but at the last election, also held on a Wednesday, it did so on a Saturday.