Accessibility links

Ruling ANC Favored in South Africa Vote - 2004-04-13

South Africans go to the polls Wednesday for their third democratic election. The government has declared voting day a national holiday, so people will have time off to cast their ballots.

Minibus taxis with their horns blaring zoom past a blue-and-white tent flapping in the breeze on a busy street corner. This is a temporary polling station in Soweto's Orlando West neighborhood, just down the street from Nelson Mandela's old house.

Orlando West is a neighborhood with a long history, and a long memory. This is the place where tens-of-thousands of young people marched against the Bantu education system during the student uprisings of 1976. Archbishop Desmond Tutu still lives here. This is where the battle for South Africa's freedom was fought.

On Wednesday, for the third time since they won that freedom, South Africans of all races will be lining up to vote.

The presiding officer at this polling station, Patrick Molete, says all South Africans can be proud of their democratic system.

"Well, it means that people are free to exercise their vote," he said. "People are free to express themselves. People are free to have a government of their choice. In that way, people can be able to say tomorrow that they are proud of having established a government of their own."

Polling stations have been open since Monday, to allow elderly and disabled voters, and others with special needs to cast their ballots without waiting in long lines.

Mr. Molete says election organizers have planned for big crowds, so the lines should not be as long as they were during South Africa's first democratic election. "Not as long as '94, because '94, as you might well know, that was the first time black people, as such, cast their votes," he said. "So everybody wanted to be at the polls at the same time. So this time people have been given enough time, as you might well know. The station opens at seven in the morning and closes at nine at night."

Across the street from the polling station, several hundred people were massing outside the Soweto branch of the Department of Home Affairs, anxiously waiting for their new identity documents. Nobody will be allowed to vote without a national ID book, but these people said they applied months ago and have not yet received them.

Esther Ngobona says she applied for her new ID in December, but still does not have a temporary ID paper that would allow her to vote.

"I want to vote, but if I have not got ID, how can I vote? If I am going to vote tomorrow, I am going to vote for ANC," she said. "How can I vote because I have not got ID? And you cannot vote without ID. Yes, I must have ID first, then I can vote."

There is little doubt the ruling African National Congress will win an overwhelming majority. The ANC has campaigned on its legacy as the leader of the anti-apartheid struggle, and on its successes in government since 1994. The party is genuinely popular, although some of its supporters are unhappy with the slow pace of change in some areas.

Magdelene Semenya says she is excited about voting and pleased with many of the changes that freedom and the ANC government have brought. But like many voters, she still has complaints.

"There are very many problems in South Africa, still, problems," she said. "There are so many problems. Unemployment, there is unemployment. Poverty. There is so much poverty in the country. If you can go just in Soweto, see how many people who are unemployed, and people are hungry."

Voters will vote Wednesday for the national parliament and provincial legislatures. Thirty-seven political parties have registered with the Independent Electoral Commission.

Election officials are predicting a peaceful poll, but security has been stepped up, especially in the volatile Kwazulu-Natal province, where there is a history of political violence. It is one of only two regions where opposition parties are expected to give the ANC a close race, the other one being the Western Cape.