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Voters queue at dawn in South Africa elections
Posted on: 23-04-2009 , 04:: | DY365 Bureau

Mr Zuma has survived corruption and sex scandals to lead the African National Congress towards what is expected to be an overwhelming victory, promising to bring “visible change" to improve the lives of the country’s black majority.

Samuel Kekana, 46, a security guard, was among the early risers lining up to vote in Soweto. He said he would vote for the ANC, crediting it with building schools and houses and improving education since taking power in 1994. Mr Kekana said that he had voted in the first multiracial ballot in 1994 and in every election since.

“This is an opportunity for us to make our mark,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss this.”

The opposition has tried to paint Mr Zuma, 67, a former anti-apartheid guerrilla, as corrupt and anti-democratic. But the ANC sees him as its first leader since Nelson Mandela who is able to connect with voters.

Desmond Tutu, the retired Cape Town Archbishop who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-apartheid campaign and has dedicated himself since to building democracy in South Africa, has questioned whether Mr Zuma is fit to govern. Mr Tutu cast his ballot in Cape Town this morning without revealing which way he had voted.

“It isn’t like the previous elections. That is true of so many people who are having to ask questions,” Mr Tutu said.

“It’s good for democracy. People are not voting cattle. People have to make decisions and some decisions go against the inclinations.”

Parliament elects South Africa’s president, putting Mr Zuma in line to win the post when the new assembly votes in May.

The governing party has been accused of moving too slowly over the past 15 years to improve the lives of South Africa’s black majority. During the campaign, the ANC has stressed its commitment to creating jobs and a stronger social safety net for the nation of nearly 50 million, which is plagued by poverty, unemployment and an Aids epidemic.

A frail-looking Mr Mandela, 90, was aided to the ballot box by a local official and smiled broadly after voting. Mr Mandela, who is largely retired from public life, appeared alongside Mr Zuma at a rally in Johannesburg on Sunday that drew more than 100,000 people.

There have been concerns that Mr Zuma’s alliance with the Communists and the trade unions will lead him away from the market-friendly policies of Mandela’s successor as president, Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Mbeki was forced to step down as president last year after he was defeated by Mr Zuma in a bitter struggle for the ANC leadership. Kgalema Motlanthe was appointed president of a caretaker government until the election.

Mr Mbeki appeared relaxed as he cast his ballot early in Johannesburg, joking with a reporter who asked which party he had voted for that the question was "unconstitutional", according to the South African Press Association.

Mbeki supporters broke away to form their own party late last year, the Congress of the People, which was initially seen as a strong challenger to the ANC. But it has had little time to prepare and its early promise has fizzled because of internal bickering.

That party will be competing with the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, for second place.

In the last elections in 2004, the ANC won 69.9 percent of the vote. Mr Zuma said last night that he expected an overwhelming majority again. Some speculate that the ANC may have trouble reaching a two-thirds majority.

Without it, the ANC will not be able to enact major budgetary and legislation unchallenged, or change the constitution.

Mr Zuma was fired by Mbeki as deputy president in 2005 after he was implicated in an arms deal bribery scandal. After a series of protracted legal battles, prosecutors dropped all charges against him earlier this month, saying that the case had been manipulated for political reasons and the criminal charges would never be revived. But they said that they still believed they had a strong case against Mr Zuma.

In 2006, he was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend. He has been ridiculed for his testimony during the trial that he believed showering after the encounter, which he said was consensual, would protect him from Aids.

“You’d have to be blind not to question his morality,” Genius Mnywabe, 32, an advertising account manager in Cape Town, said. But Mr Mnywabe also credited the ANC with managing South Africa’s economy and doing much to improve conditions for the poor.

The son of a maid, Mr Zuma was imprisoned for 10 years on Robben Island, alongside Mandela and other heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle. He later went into exile, where he headed the ANC’s intelligence wing.



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