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South Africans begin voting in tough test for ruling ANC

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, at an ANC rally, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5 May 2019.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, at an ANC rally, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5 May 2019. GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

South Africans have begun voting in elections seen as a test for the ruling African National Congress. It comes 25 years after the country's first multi-racial vote which marked the end of apartheid. Corruption, unemployment and economic growth are among the key issues.

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President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took over from corruption-accused Jacob Zuma, acknowledged on the eve of the election that "we are humble enough to admit our mistakes. We have taken decisive steps to fight corruption".

Ramaphosa, 66, took office last year when Zuma was forced to resign as president by the ANC after nine years dominated by corruption allegations and economic problems.

However, support for the ANC has fallen in every election since 2004 with the party winning 54 percent in 2016 local elections, compared with 62 percent in 2014's national vote.

The party is tipped to win the vote, but with a reduced majority.

Growing dissatisfaction among South African voters

The ANC has been confronted by deepening public anger over its failure to tackle poverty and inequality in post-apartheid South Africa.

The economy grew just 0.8 percent in 2018 and unemployment hovers around 27 percent, and over 50 percent among young people.

More than 26 million people have registered to vote but local surveys suggest that six million young people are not on the electoral roll.

Of the 47 opposition parties in the race, only the main opposition centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) and the radical-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are major players.

The DA's first black leader Mmusi Maimane is contesting his first general election since taking the helm in 2015, and is expected to make modest gains on 2014's 22 percent vote share.

"Vote for the future of this country and the South Africans who are unemployed," said Maimane after voting in Soweto, insisting the poll was not "a beauty pageant but a contract" between voters and their representatives.

The radical leftist EFF, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, is predicted to make major gains, growing from 6.3 percent to a forecast 11 percent.

Some 26.8 million voters are registered to cast ballots at 22,925 polling stations.

Early results will emerge on Thursday with an official winner declared on Saturday.

The party that wins most seats in parliament selects the president, who will be sworn in on May 25.

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