South Africans queued before dawn yesterday to vote in an election animated by Jacob Zuma who has overcome sex and corruption scandals to help generate an excitement not seen since the country’s first multi-racial vote in 1994.
Mr Zuma, one of the African National Congress party’s most popular leaders, is now poised to become president. The poor black majority connects with his deprived background, and he has promised to speed up delivery of jobs, houses, schools and clinics.
The ANC predicts an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary election, whose results are expected late tomorrow. The emergence of a party that broke away from the ANC, while not expected to be a formidable challenger, did force the ANC to campaign more aggressively.
Some speculate the ANC may have trouble reaching a two-thirds majority. Without it the party will not be able to enact major budgetary and legislation unchallenged, or change the constitution. The ANC won 69.9% of the vote in the 2004 election and Mr Zuma said he expected an overwhelming majority again.
Parliament elects South Africa’s president, putting Mr Zuma in line for the post when the new assembly votes in May after he survived scandals that once threatened to derail his political career.
“Never did I think as I was growing up here that one day I would cast my vote here as I am doing,” he said in the rural Zulu heartland of eastern South Africa where he voted yesterday. “It must be great, feeling the difference from the olden days to where we are today, when we can decide our own fate.”
The 67-year-old former ANC guerrilla, who was imprisoned for 10 years on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, was greeted by about 100 supporters. The ANC sees Mr Zuma as its first leader to energise voters since Mr Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.