JOHANNESBURG - Citizens across the Rainbow Nation on Wednesday thronged schools, community centers, church halls and tents to cast their votes in the nation's sixth parliamentary poll since the beginning of democracy.
Leaders of the top three parties — the ruling African National Congress, the opposition Democratic Alliance, and the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters — cast their votes Wednesday morning, with ANC leader and President Cyril Ramaphosa saying the main issues he hoped to tackle if re-elected were the nation's flagging economy and high unemployment.
Talking to the press after casting his vote in Soweto, he compared this year's poll to the nation's first democratic election, in which the nation elected Nelson Mandela as its first black president.
Reminiscent of 1994
"This is a vote that reminds us of 1994," he said. "Because in 1994, our people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country. And today, this is what I am also picking up."
For the sixth consecutive time, the ruling African National Congress is expected to win and retain power.
Election officials said Wednesday evening that polling was mostly smooth, with only minor hiccups. The polls have now closed.
But corruption scandals and the sluggish economy have tainted the ANC's image and led some voters to defect to opposition parties.
In the South Africa's economic hub, some younger voters, like 25-year-old engineering student Londiwe Mngadi, say they struggled to choose.
"It felt exciting, and a bit challenging, because of the different parties that are there," she said. "But I was very much excited to exercise my right today."
Many older voters, like long-time ANC supporter Bobby Madhav, said the choice was simple.
"Pretty easy," said the 55-year-old banker of his choice. "There's only one party that we've grown up with in the struggle. And we hope that they do the right thing going forward."
South African journalist Mmusi Mogotlane, who voted early Wednesday in Johannesburg, said the next government has a big job on its hands.
"The main problem South Africa has to deal with first is fighting the demon we call corruption within our government structures," he said. "If we can deal with that, and we are able to make sure that the money, that the fiscal is distributed equally in society to improve the lives and to make sure that those who are responsible for corruption are punished — and are punished severely — then there is a direction South Africa can take for the improvement of everyone's else's life."
Final results are expected by May 11. The winning party will elect the next president, who will be sworn in on May 25.