JOHANNESBURG – South Africans voted Monday in local government elections that will offer an indication if support for the ruling African National Congress has rebounded after waning in recent years.
The municipal elections, which take place every five years, determine the composition of councils responsible for providing essential services like water, waste management and sanitation. Councilors, in turn, elect city mayors.
The vote, the sixth local elections since the end of apartheid in 1994, comes amid South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with some polling stations setting up adjacent vaccination centers to encourage voters to cast their ballots and receive a shot.
Around 26 million South Africans are registered to vote in the elections and results are expected beginning early Tuesday.
Campaigning has largely focused on the ruling ANC's apparent failure to provide essential services in cities and municipalities they govern. Compounding that is the national ANC government’s inability to ensure a stable electricity supply following the return of rolling power blackouts last week.
The latest blackouts — as long as six hours per day — have sparked renewed anger across the country and saw opposition parties trying to capitalize with pledges to resolve the electricity issue if elected.
Although unhappy with poor services in the Kempton Park area where he lives, Justin Mosuthwane said he was determined to cast his ballot despite expressions of apathy toward the vote by others.
“I know there are people who have decided not to vote, but because of the history of our country it is hard to forget how hard we have fought for our right to vote," said Mosuthwane.
Blacks were not allowed to vote under the apartheid regime.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg and emphasized the nation's progress since overthrowing apartheid.
“As a country, we have to be very proud that our democracy is growing and becoming more entrenched,” he said.
But his ANC party, which has been in power since 1994, has been criticized for not doing enough at a local level to improve the lives of millions of poor South Africans. The country has had an unreliable electricity grid for years and faces inadequate housing and sanitation despite being Africa's most developed economy.
Johannesburg resident Rachel van Zyl said she'll use her vote to speak out.
“If you are upset about the way things are being run, the only way to have a say is to cast your vote," she said. “The service delivery is absolutely shocking. We pay a fortune for rates and taxes but the service delivery is ridiculous.”
In the previous municipal elections, the ANC lost control of Johannesburg, the country’s largest city and economic hub, the Tshwane metropolitan area that includes the capital city of Pretoria, and the Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area that includes Gqeberha, the city formerly called Port Elizabeth.
Those major cities are expected to be hotly contested again. The ANC's main challengers are the centrist Democratic Alliance party, the biggest opposition party and which runs the city of Cape Town, and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, who champion the plight of poor Black South Africans.
Among those permitted to cast ballots ahead of Monday's vote was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid icon who turned 90 last month.
The Independent Electoral Commission said the vote was “progressing smoothly,” although 39 voting stations in the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces opened late because of protests. In the Eastern Cape, protesters dug trenches to prevent election officials from accessing voting stations and municipal workers had to fill the trenches in before voting could begin.
Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa.