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South Africans Head To Polls


South Africans have been voting today in elections that are viewed as a referendum on the governing African National Congress. It's been a generation since the late Nelson Mandela was elected president and the ANC came to power after apartheid, the policy of racial segregation, was abolished. Today many voters are angry over failed promises, massive corruption and the vast economic inequality that still exists between the nation's black majority and white minority.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Johannesburg and joins us now. Hello there.


SHAPIRO: I know you've been to some polling stations today. What are voters telling you?

QUIST-ARCTON: It depends where you go in Johannesburg. The townships are still, I would say, pro the African National Congress because of course it was the liberation party that brought freedom and the end of apartheid. But in other places, many voters seem eager to punish the ANC. They say for economic misrule, corruption, failure to deliver on key pledges such as creating more jobs, tackling land distribution and also providing more housing, electricity and water. But then you have also the young voters. They say, you know, it is still a privilege and an honor for us to vote. People died so we could vote. Listen to Lerato Lekwale (ph).

LERATO LEKWALE: The funny part is I'm standing there and thinking, does anyone else get emotional about it anymore still - 'cause it still has that feeling. When you're standing there thinking the privilege that it is for us to be able to vote, it's actually quite sad 'cause so many young people are saying they won't be voting. Young people don't seem to understand what it took to afford us this privilege, this right.

SHAPIRO: Ofeibea, I know that many observers were predicting that turnout would be low because people are so disappointed and frustrated with South Africa's leaders. Is that consistent with what you've seen today?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, I've only been in Johannesburg. We're talking about a whole country. Twenty-six - almost 27 million people were eligible to vote. So we're going to have to see. But this is really important for the African National Congress. It needs a high turnout, and it needs people to vote for it so that it can continue with its majority in Parliament. But of course many people say perhaps it's time for the opposition to have a bigger role in the government of South Africa.

SHAPIRO: If the ANC is successful in this election, what about President Cyril Ramaphosa? He came to office last year with a lot of goodwill. But with all of the animosity towards him, is he likely to retain leadership of the party and the country?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, because these are parliamentary and provincial elections, you don't actually vote for a president. It's obviously the party. And the ANC has been so dominant with a majority in Parliament. And it has been like a juggernaut in South Africa, being the liberation party that brought freedom to South Africa and the end of apartheid.

Many people I've spoken to in the past few days have said that maybe they will vote for the ANC again because they believe in President Cyril Ramaphosa. Of course he comes after Jacob Zuma, the disgraced president who he replaced last year who was seen to have, in a way, brought South Africa's name into disrepute because of allegations of fraud and corruption. So there are some who are willing to give Cyril Ramaphosa a second chance, so to speak, in the ANC. But there are many others who say it's time for the opposition, which has been creepingly making progress - the main Democratic Alliance controls big cities. Now many people say it's time for the opposition to control more important provinces to give the ANC a bloody nose.

SHAPIRO: When do you expect to have results?

QUIST-ARCTON: This is South Africa, so things move fast. So I would say by the end of the week. Even tomorrow, maybe Friday, we should know who has won. Most people are saying it's going to be the ANC, but it's a case of how well, the percentage. And have they lost solidarity and support, or have they managed to claw some of it back?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Johannesburg, South Africa. Thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.