South Africans head to election polls, 20 years after end of apartheid

BY Anya van Wagtendonk  May 7, 2014 at 2:36 PM EST
 A sculpture at Port Elizabeth’s Donkin Reserve commemorates South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994. Voters there will come out on Wednesday for the first time since the death of Nelson Mandela. Photo by Sue Hoppe/Wikimedia Commons

A sculpture at Port Elizabeth’s Donkin Reserve commemorates South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994. Voters there will come out on Wednesday for the first time since the death of Nelson Mandela. Photo by Sue Hoppe/Wikimedia Commons

South Africans take to the polls Wednesday for national elections, 20 years after Nelson Mandela’s historic election as president marked the end of apartheid.

Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, has been in power ever since, and analysts are predicting another victory for the group, headed by President Jacob Zuma.

The ANC faces strong opposition by the Democratic Alliance party, headed by anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille, as well as newcomer Economic Freedom Fighters, who hope to leverage frustration over governmental corruption and a national unemployment rate pushing 25 percent.

Still, it will be the first election since Mandela’s death in December. Experts believe that lingering loyalty to Madiba, as he is fondly called, will motivate a large majority of South Africa’s 25 million registered voters to support the party they saw fighting white-minority rule.

Notably, a generation of voters with no such nostalgia — young people born after apartheid’s demise — will also be eligible to cast their ballots for the first time.

These so-called “born-frees” make up only 2.5 percent of the electorate — and are registered at far lower numbers than the rest of the population — but analysts will be watching them closely.

“We’re generally seeing a youth that is still quite disillusioned by the current political landscape in South Africa,” said Lauren Tracey of the Institute for Security Studies. “They don’t feel as if their vote is going to make a difference.”

They are not alone in this disenchantment. Rev. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and close friend of Mandela, has said he will not vote for the ANC this year, citing high rates of poverty and crime across the country that have not changed much over the last two decades.

“We dreamt about a society that would be compassionate, a society that really made people feel they mattered,” he told South Africa’s Sunday Times in April. “You can’t do that in a society where you have people who go to bed hungry, where many of our children still attend classes under trees.”

“I’m glad that Madiba is dead,” he added. “I’m glad that most of these people are no longer alive to see this.”