Cape Town -
After a slow start, millions of voters queued from Marikana's mining settlements to the country's leafy suburbs on Wednesday in the first national elections since Nelson Mandela died.
International observers in Rustenburg said they were satisfied with the voting process in the heart of the strike-torn platinum belt, while the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) said halfway through the day the election had been mostly incident free.
After casting his ballot in Nkandla, the KwaZulu-Natal hamlet that became an opposition campaign byword for state excess, President Jacob Zuma urged voters to turn out en masse.
He said it was “probably the most important thing to do in this democracy”, and predicted a good score for the ruling party. It is facing an uphill battle to retain its 66 percent majority amid signs of voter apathy, in particular among the so-called born free generation.
IEC officials reported that voting was slow in townships that were flash points of pre-election protest and unrest.
In Bekkersdal, 50km west of Johannesburg, where election tents had been torched on Tuesday night, a strong military presence echoed that in Marikana and officials noted a marked lack of young voters in queues.
In Krugersdorp Vuyo Dike, 20, said he was not going to vote because he was not sure his mark would be repaid with better performance by government.
“I feel that you're not assured that your vote will be returned with development. Parties win but don't focus on service delivery,” he said.
His friend, first-time voter Devine Olien, 21, said although he did not know who he was going to vote for, he would make a cross on the ballot paper.
“As a young person, I would say give it a try and see what happens. If there is no difference or change in your area, then you can say you're never voting again.”
Voting proceeded at a trickle in the Evergreen informal settlement outside Springs where protesters had called for a poll boycott. The electoral officer in charge of a borrowed Word of God church tent said about 150 people had voted by mid-afternoon.
A young man wearing an Economic Freedom Fighters beret said he had not voted and had no intention of doing so because government had “not changed anything” in the 20 years since the country's first democratic elections in 1994, the year he was born.
Voting was slow too in Barcelona, a section of Gugulethu township outside Cape Town, after angry residents protested against the opening of a voting station there earlier in the day.
Residents were unhappy with the presiding officer, and delayed the opening of the polling station - making one of 2449 around the country to open up to four hours late in what the IEC called a mixture of logistical problems and human error.
The Barcelona polling booth finally opened after the commission dispatched a mediation team to settle the dispute. By lunchtime, a voting queue snaked along a dirt road between the densely populated shacks, while the smell of braai meat wafted from a nearby outside grill.
“I was sleeping late and it's now one o'clock. At two o'clock I'm going to work and the line is far away,” a worried Mbonisi Ntsabo said.
Western Cape provincial electoral officer Courtney Sampson hoped long queues later, a usual election feature in the province, could be avoided, adding that the hitches were normal.
“The first hour of an election is like riding a wild horse.”
In the 2009 elections, voting was extended well past the 9pm cut-off time on the Cape Flats, which is the scene of a tight race between the ANC and the DA after the latter narrowly won a majority in the province.
A war of words between the two parties continued amid voting on Wednesday as the Electoral Court found the DA's text message accusing Zuma of “stealing” millions to complete his Nkandla compound amounted to publication of false information. The ruling party accused its main rival of contempt of court.
Embattled Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi paid no obvious party allegiance when he voted in Morningside Manor, Johannesburg, but stressed, like archbishop Desmond Tutu did earlier in the day, that 20 years into democracy voting remained a privilege.
“I've voted in every election. I'm a veteran. If we were to stay away from voting it would mean we were completely irresponsible,” Vavi told reporters after casting his ballot.
“South Africa is a maturing democracy and we must celebrate that,” he said.
Tutu, who announced last month that he would not support the ANC, told reporters at Milnerton High School he could not vote as he had in 1994 because “I am 20 years older”.
But ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the voting queue he joined in Boksburg reflected a happy society after 20 years of democracy.
“If you go to that ward you will see the real South African society, non-racial, where people mix and mingle with ease and they vote together and they joke together,” he said at the IEC's results centre in Pretoria.
“We hope that we can extend that to every part of the country.” - Sapa