Heavy Turnout in S. African Balloting

By Karin Brulliard
(c) 2009, The Washington Post

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africans turned out in droves Wednesday to vote in an election in which the primary question was not whether the ruling African National Congress would win, but by how much.

Energized by a new opposition party and the ANC's controversial but popular presidential candidate, Jacob Zuma, voters patiently lined up for hours in what election administrators predicted would be record numbers. Results for the election, the nation's fourth democratic poll since the 1994 transition to black-majority rule, were expected Thursday at the earliest and probably will not be finalized until the weekend.

Voting proceeded smoothly from dawn until darkness, and the main problems appeared to be caused by high voter interest. Lines were still lengthy as polls prepared to close, while some voting stations ran out of ballots and ballot boxes were overflowing at others.

"I've voted in every election since 1994. I will vote until I die," said Ernest Mokhachane, 47, a grocery store clerk who was walking toward a line that was hundreds of people long at his polling station in an industrial downtown neighborhood, where he planned to vote for the ANC for the fourth time. He credited the party with providing housing and opportunities. "We've seen changes."

The ANC has expanded its majority since winning control of the government 15 years ago, and since 2004 it has had a two-thirds majority in Parliament, enabling it to easily pass bills. But that dominance has come under threat this year and prompted the ruling party to campaign with increased drive.

Though the ANC is expected to win more than 60 percent of the vote, opposition parties — including a new organization that split from the ANC last year — have lured voters who are disillusioned with South Africa's dire poverty and crime, and with corruption scandals that have clouded the ruling party.

Opinion polls indicate that the Congress of the People, the splinter group known as COPE, and the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, could each win slightly more than 10 percent of the vote. Among their supporters are former ANC loyalists who have given up hope that the ANC will deliver prosperity, or grown worried that the liberation movement has become power-drunk as a ruling party.

"I want changes. Better improvement of the government. Better country," said Jonas Mfunwana, 39, a printing factory employee who waited in line for three hours to cast his vote for COPE in his southern Johannesburg squatter camp. "The ANC hasn't done a good job. We're still struggling. We still live in the shacks."

Zuma seemed to acknowledge the challenge this week, saying the party would "not take the support of the people for granted." The ANC has promised to hasten delivery of basic services, particularly to rural places such as Zuma's home town, Nkandla.

Zuma, who has been acquitted of rape and investigated for corruption, has proved to be among the most controversial topics this election period. His leadership led to the split of the ANC, which supporters of a breakaway faction said had lost its values. The gregarious Zuma has won passionate support among many poor South Africans but alienated others.

"I think the leader should be quite a moral person," said Clive Cox, 50, who stood in line in his tidy Johannesburg suburb, where he said he planned to vote for the Democratic Alliance. "The only way we're going to start getting (the ANC) to watch what they're doing is to get effective opposition."

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