Polls opened in South Africa’s fifth all-race elections on Wednesday, with up to 25 million citizens – including a “born free” generation electing a government for the first time – expected to cast their ballots.
Twenty years after South Africans of all colours wowed the world by voting to end centuries of racist rule, they will turn out to 22,263 polling centres to elect lawmakers and, in turn, a democratic president.
The run up to the vote had been marked by nostalgic rhetoric and voter fury.
On the eve of the ballot angry protestors threw rocks and set fire to a polling station in Bekkersdal near Soweto, where police and the army have been deployed to keep order.
But the township’s residents queued up from before dawn, vowing not to be dissuaded from exercising their hard-won democratic right.
“I’m here to vote for my future, I don’t care about what happened here on Tuesday. I won’t allow it to turn me away” said Nosihle Zikalala.
As in 1994 and the three subsequent elections, the African National Congress is expected to win handily.
The party’s electoral pitch has relied heavily on past anti-Apartheid glories and on the outpouring of grief over the death of its former leader Nelson Mandela to shore up support.
“Do it for Madiba, Vote ANC!” read one prominent campaign poster, referring to the late statesman by his clan name.
But throughout the campaign the party’s heroic past has collided with South Africa’s harsh present, with the ANC unable to assuage anger at government corruption, high unemployment and poor basic services.
Many commentators have billed this election as the last to be dominated by South Africa’s post-apartheid past.
The exact outcome will depend on turnout and on how the roughly one million South Africans who never knew apartheid will cast their ballots.
“Every party has its pros and its cons, so I need to just take some time and think about what is relevant to me,” said young voter Mealyn Joyce.
“I’m not voting on a historical basis, I’m voting on what I think I need as a young person.”
Polls show many are disaffected with the country’s current crop of leaders and are willing to consider the opposition Democratic Alliance or left-wing firebrand Julius Malema.