Johannesburg - South Africans went to the polls in the country's sixth democratic elections on Wednesday, braving cold weather, rains and a few operational glitches to elect a new political leadership that faces the daunting task of kickstarting the stalled economy.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) is likely to keep its 25-year-long grip on power, but could get less than the 62.15 percent of votes it won at the previous national elections in 2014, as some voters vent their anger over a lack of jobs, poor basic services and allegations of government corruption in recent years.
Ramaphosa, who cast his ballot in Johannesburg's Soweto township, pleaded with the electorate not to boycott the polls, saying even those who opted to stage protests on election day, should first vote.
"I have always said to our people who want to protest and not vote that that is not the right way of raising issues," the president said. "Go and vote and after that, you can stand and say: I have voted because I want my issues to be addressed.''
He said this as community protests were reported in Cape Town, Durban and Vhuwani in Limpopo where residents burnt tyres and barricaded roads, vowing not to vote until the government addressed their gripes.
At the Boshoek settlement outside Rustenburg in North West, which alongside KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) was identified as a potentially troublesome province on election day, disgruntled residents stuck to their vow to ignore the polls and went about their normal business.
"I won't be voting today. I voted before but I live worse than before. I live in a rotting tent, when it rains I get wet but I am supposed to vote. No change, no vote," said Rosina Mokoe.
But 89-year-old granny Thokozile Mkhwanazi from Mahangin in rural KZN, said she would continue voting as long as she lived, insisting that life was much better than what it was under white apartheid rule.
"We were living in difficult times, where your life was being controlled by someone else, we used to work at the farms without getting paid," Mkhwanazi recalled.
Voting started on time at 7 am at several of the country's 22 924 polling stations, but there were delays at others as electoral officials grappled with equipment failure, among some challenges.
In Cape Town, police had to intervene at polling station at Samora Machel in ward 88 after a crowd angry over standing in the rain for a long time tried to force their way in.
An Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) official who declined to be named said his team had been issued with only one scanner, resulting in long delays in processing voters.
There was drama outside a polling station in Port Elizabeth when police and the military were called to inspect a house alleged to be storing a ballot box, with the ANC accusing the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) of nefarious intent. However, it later emerged that the box in question was a black utility box used to store toilet rolls.
Voting got off to a brisk start in Polokwane in Limpopo as residents came out in numbers at various voting stations across the city despite the overcast and chilly weather.
Limpopo is the home province of Julius Malema, leader of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which garnered 6.35 percent of votes at its electoral debut in 2014, drawing away some support from both the ANC and the DA which took 22.23 percent.
“I want to thank South Africans for coming out in their numbers and exercising their democratic rights. A lot of people died so we could do this: We have done everything possible to win this election," Malema said after voting at Mponegele Primary School in Seshego.
The occasion was not without incident -- Malema slammed an IEC official who unsuccessfully tried to cut off his wife Mantwa's long artificial nails before allowing her to vote, saying this was necessary in order to put a mark on her to show she had cast her ballot.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the elections amounted to a referendum on whether South Africans wanted to choose corruption or hope.
"I'm not asking people to marry me, I'm asking them to vote for change and put the best, the most competent government in place. I can take this country forward," Maimane told the African News Agency (ANA) at a voting station in Pretoria.
Just over 26.75 million people are registered to make their choice from 48 political parties, and polling was set to close at 9 pm, although all those already in the queue by then would be allowed to still vote beyond the cut-off time.
African News Agency (ANA)