South Africans are voting in presidential and parliamentary elections in what is being seen as a pivotal election after years of corruption scandals that have plagued the “rainbow nation”.
Some 26.8 million voters are registered to cast ballots at 22,925 polling stations. Polls opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and close 14 hours later.
Early results will emerge on Thursday while the official winner will be declared on Saturday. The party that wins most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on May 25.
Wednesday’s vote comes 25 years after the end of apartheid. But despite the demise of the system of racial discrimination, the country remains divided by economic inequality.
While dozens of parties are competing, the main contenders are the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA).
The ANC is almost certain to win again. However, its reputation has been damaged in the last 10 years by a stream of scandals under former President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 and is currently on trial on corruption charges.
His replacement, Cyril Ramaphosa, has a cleaner image. But he has lost votes in recent years to the EFF and its leader Julius Malema, who promises to redistribute white-owned land and nationalise the banks.
The DA, meanwhile, has also eaten into the ANC’s once-dominant share of the vote. In the last municipal elections, the DA won in two key cities – Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The ANC – the liberation party that brought about the end of the racist apartheid regime and enfranchised black South Africans – will be challenged on whether it can win back disillusioned urban voters.
Under South Africa‘s electoral system, citizens do not vote directly for the president, but a vote for the ANC is essentially a vote for Ramaphosa.