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South Africans Vote in Third All-Race Elections Since End of Apartheid - 2004-04-14


South Africans went to the polls Wednesday for their third all-race elections since the end of apartheid a decade ago. President Thabo Mbeki's ruling African National Congress party was expected to retain power by a large majority.

An election official points voters toward the right boxes for their ballots. For the third time since the end of apartheid, South Africans of all races were standing in line together to choose a new government.

It is almost certain that the new government will be the same as the last one. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is likely to keep its overwhelming majority in parliament, and therefore the presidency. The ANC won nearly two-thirds of the vote five years ago, and it looks set to retain or even increase its support base.

For many voters, the choice to vote ANC is more historical than personal. It is the party many South Africans, especially blacks, associate with freedom.

"Yes. I'm going to vote for Mr. Thabo Mbeki, my president," a young man said. "Because I must vote for ANC, because I like ANC. I'm going to vote for ANC."

"I vote for ANC," an older man said. "My uncle and my grandfather, they've been on Robben Island for that party, to form that party. So these other parties, I don't know where they come from. Maybe an old party, but it was for the white, not for the black. So this is the one for the black."

When asked what things voters thought about when making their decision, one woman replied, "The differences that have come into my life. The change that has been, and who I think has brought those changes to me. That's what I took into consideration."

A decade after the end of apartheid, support for the ANC seems stronger than ever. The party campaigned partly on its legacy as a liberation movement and partly on what it has been able to accomplish in 10 years in power, such as the building of more than 1.5 million houses.

However, in some areas, the pace of change has been slower than people expected, and the opposition parties have tried to convince voters it is time for a change. Opposition leaders have also warned that South Africa is in danger becoming a one-party state. It is not clear how well those strategies were working, but some voters were sympathetic.

"I'm just sick and tired of the promises we have been getting," said one young man. "And then I know there are lots of people who fought for this country, and even now they don't have what they were promised. And that makes me sad, too."

When asked how hard it was to decide who to vote for, one woman replied, "Very hard, because there's not one particular party I think I want to stand for, but I do believe in opposition to the government. So that's why I voted."

As for the voting itself, it appeared to be going smoothly in most of the country. Election officials say they learned a lot from the 1994 and 1999 elections, and there were fewer logistical problems this time around.

In several rural areas, there were reports that farmers were preventing their workers from voting, sparking a complaint from the ANC and heavy rains in the northern part of the country kept many voters away from the polls there early in the day.

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