South Africans Head To The Polls To Vote In The Biggest Election Since The End of Apartheid

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South Africans are preparing to vote in what’s described as the most important general election since apartheid ended — putting an end to the African National Congress (ANC) Party’s power.

Polls show that the ANC, which has been in power since former President Nelson Mandela’s reign in 1994, has a good chance of staying in control. However, it faces challenges as voters are restless about the country’s direction. If the ANC’s support falls below 50% for the first time, the party will be forced into a coalition government.

During a speech at the FNB soccer stadium in Soweto, ANC leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told thousands of voters that the election, held on May 29, is “one of the most important elections in our nation’s history.” 

After casting his ballot, Ramaphosa said there is “no doubt whatsoever” that voters will trust the ANC again. “This is the day when South Africa decides, decides on the future of our country, (on) who should lead the government of South Africa, and I have no doubt whatsoever in my heart of hearts that the people will once again invest confidence in the African National Congress to continue to lead this country,” he said.

According to the World Bank, South Africa is the most divided country in the world. South Africans are stricken with the highest unemployment in the world, corruption, unstable economic growth, power cuts, and violent crime rates — with Black South Africans, who make up 81% of the population, getting the short end of the stick. Unemployment and poverty remain consistent in the Black community thanks in large part to the challenges within the public school system. 

However, a majority of white South Africans are continuously met with job opportunities and higher wages.

Voters like Samuel Ratshalingwa waited in line for long periods of time to cast votes. “Our main issue here in our community is the lack of jobs,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We have to use the vote to make our voices heard about this problem.” 

During the last national election in 2019, the ANC won 57.5% of the vote — its worst result to date — a sharp drop from a 70% high in 2004. Attributed to the growing poverty, ANC being riddled with corruption scandals adds to the desire to see it go. There has also been a failed attempt at basic government services with communities living without running water, electricity, or proper housing. “We want to see the change,” actor and filmmaker Sydney Radebe said. 

“This is a rich country, but people don’t have anything. We don’t have land. We don’t have property… you cannot own nothing and say you are ‘free.’”

Young voters who are voting for the first time, like Newton Ugboh, 20, are desperate for change. “I’m looking for change, so I came early in the morning,” he said.

John Steenhuisen, a prominent opponent of ANC, said, “For the first time in 30 years, there is now a path to victory for the opposition.” The Democratic Alliance leader feels his party probably wouldn’t gain a majority but has faith in the pre-election agreement with other smaller parties working together to get rid of the ANC. “I don’t think we’re going to solve the problems of South Africa by keeping the same people around the same table making the same bad decisions for the same bad results,” Steenhuisen said.

However, Ramaphosa is betting on the ANC staying in power. He thinks South Africa is better off now than when under apartheid — a time when Black people were banned from voting, weren’t allowed to move around freely, and were forced to live in certain areas. 

As voting started at 7 a.m. and was scheduled to end at 9 p.m., close to 3,000 soldiers were deployed across the country to guarantee that things moved along safely. The independent electoral commission in charge of the election noted some minor issues with stations opening on time. 

This election is the nation’s seventh national vote in which people of all races can participate.

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