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story.lead_photo.caption Party representatives watch Wednesday as election workers at a school in Johannesburg count ballots after polls closed in the national election.

JOHANNESBURG -- South Africans voted Wednesday in presidential and parliamentary elections, with signs of a relatively low turnout and voters saying they were disillusioned by widespread corruption and unemployment.

Despite the demise of apartheid 25 years ago, South Africa remains divided by economic inequality.

The African National Congress, which has been in power since 1994, was expected to win a majority even though it has been tarnished by corruption scandals and a national unemployment rate of 27%.

"Corruption got into the way," President Cyril Ramaphosa said after voting, saying graft has prevented his party from serving the people. Ramaphosa, who leads the African National Congress, has campaigned on promises to clean up his party, an acknowledgment of the problems that forced out predecessor Jacob Zuma last year.

Selina Molapo, a 38-year-old resident of Tembisa township in eastern Johannesburg, agreed with him, complaining the ruling party has not delivered on its promise of jobs.

"In 2014, we voted for the [African National Congress] but our situation has not changed," Molapo said. "I am voting for a different party."

Opposition leader Julius Malema voted in his home area of Polokwane in northern Limpopo province and said he expects a good turnout for his party, the populist, leftist Economic Freedom Fighters.

"If the people want to continue unemployed, if the people want to continue landless, then they can continue voting for the same party," Malema said, referring to the ruling African National Congress. "But if you need change, the [Economic Freedom Fighters] is the way to go!"

Young voters make up about 20% of the electorate and largely support Malema, who broke from the ruling party six years ago. However, registration of voters under 30 was relatively low.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was one of the first voters at the Dobsonville polling station in Soweto, Johannesburg's largest black township.

"Soweto represents to me the home of the struggle against apartheid and it is where we are now struggling against corruption and for a new government," Maimane said. Black support for his party is limited because it is generally perceived to be run by whites.

The African National Congress has vowed to embark on a program of seizing white-owned land without compensation, for which it needs a 67% majority to change South Africa's constitution.

The party will likely need to form a coalition government with another party to get the votes needed. That is likely to be the Economic Freedom Fighters, which supports land seizures.

If the African National Congress' share of the vote slips below 60%, Ramaphosa could be vulnerable and his party could choose a new leader.

More than 40 smaller parties also are vying for power in the balloting.

At the polling station in the overwhelmingly white Parkhurst suburb of Johannesburg, a young man working as one of the city's "car guards" -- the ubiquitous youths who offer to keep an eye on a vehicle while the driver is away -- paused to say he had given up on the African National Congress and was voting for the Democratic Alliance instead.

"They ate a lot of millions," 26-year-old Anthony Molele said of the ruling party's many corruption scandals.

At a table for the Economic Freedom Fighters, party agents and domestic workers Marie Lekgothoane and Sophie Tsoai watched the arrival of mostly white voters.

Lekgothoane described how she and her 13-year-old daughter must wake up at 5 a.m. daily to commute more than an hour by minibus to Parkhurst, where she works and once lived before being asked to move out.

"We struggle a lot," Lekgothoane said, adding that she has put her faith in the party and its promise of change.

"I like this party with all of my heart," she said.

When South Africa held its first all-race elections in 1994 after the end of the harsh apartheid system of racial discrimination, voters waited in long, snaking lines. Few such scenes were evident Wednesday, except in the poor Diepsloot township north of Johannesburg.

Winston Rammoko, 41, did not vote because he said he did not believe it would be significant.

"We all know that the [African National Congress] is going to win the elections so I do not think mine will make any difference," said Rammoko, who sells tires in the eastern suburb of Kempton Park. "Tracy van Tonder, 20, is one of the younger South Africans who did not register to vote.

"By the time I got interested in voting, the deadline to vote had already passed," she said while accompanying her older sister. Van Tonder is one of the nearly 6 million eligible voters under 30 who did not register.

Information for this article was contributed by Cara Anna of The Associated Press.

A Section on 05/09/2019

Print Headline: Turnout low in S. Africa vote


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