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The ANC in South Africa could be forced to govern in coalition voters go to the polls


The party of Nelson Mandela faces its greatest electoral challenge yet today as voters go to the polls in South Africa. For the first time, the ruling African National Congress - or ANC - could lose its absolute majority, and the party that has governed the country since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994 may be forced to govern in coalition. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu is in South Africa and spent the day at a polling station.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You can go on inside now.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: There are about 30 people queuing in the shade outside, trickling into this polling station in a school here in Durban. This is the very same ward where Nelson Mandela first voted in 1994. And it's a reminder of how this country has emerged from the history of apartheid but also how the immense optimism and hope of that moment feels very different to now. It's early afternoon, and it's been efficient and seamless so far - almost uneventful. But the stakes in this election are very real.


AKINWOTU: It's a public holiday in South Africa, and a group of boys are playing soccer near the hall while a steady stream of voters walk through the school grounds. One of them is 49-year-old Nkosinathi Mtiyane, who echoes a popular sentiment when he says he's ready for something different.

NKOSINATHI MTIYANE: I'm here to vote for a change for my life and for the country.

AKINWOTU: Despite being an economic powerhouse on the continent, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with near-record rates of unemployment, frequent power cuts and water shortages. While the ANC's support remains unparalleled, a group of parties are chipping away and making headway. One of them is the uMkhonto weSizwe Party - or MK - led by former ANC stalwart president Jacob Zuma. And in the battleground region of KwaZulu-Natal, voter Tracey Bongiwe Zondo represents what the ANC is hoping to avoid.

TRACEY BONGIWE ZONDO: Before, I was voting for ANC. But now I'm voting for MK because I need a change.

AKINWOTU: What makes you want to change your vote?

BONGIWE ZONDO: Even now, you've got no water. Sometimes you've got no lights. So I think there's - anything will change.


AKINWOTU: Zondo voted in Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal, and is hoping to dent the ANC support enough to play a decisive role in shaping the next government.

Other smaller parties, like the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, could also be a factor. The centrist Democratic Alliance is the main opposition party, largely led by the white minority in South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa voted in his hometown of Soweto, outside Johannesburg, and appeared confident.


PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: The people of South Africa will give the ANC, as they vote today, a firm majority. So in my mind - in my head and in my thought processes - there isn't even a doubt about that.

AKINWOTU: But behind the defiance, there's no hiding the fact that the ANC could be at a tipping point. In the next few days, it will find out whether its sole dominance of South African politics over the last 30 years is at an end.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Durban.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.
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