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South Africans vote in most competitive election since end of apartheid

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South Africans vote on Wednesday in the most competitive election since the end of apartheid, with opinion polls suggesting the African National Congress (ANC) will lose its parliamentary majority after 30 years in government.

Then led by Nelson Mandela, the ANC swept to power in South Africa’s first multi-racial election in 1994 and has won a majority in national elections held every five years since then, though its share of the vote has gradually declined.

If it falls short of 50% this time, the ANC will have to make a deal with one or more smaller parties to govern – uncharted and potentially choppy waters for a young democracy that has so far been utterly dominated by a single party.

However, the ANC is still on course to win the largest share of the vote, meaning that its leader President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to remain in office, unless he faces an internal challenge if the party’s performance is worse than expected.

Voter dissatisfaction over high rates of unemployment and crime, frequent power blackouts and corruption in party ranks lies behind the ANC’s gradual fall from grace.

More than 27 million South Africans are registered to vote at over 23,000 polling stations that will be open from 0500 GMT to 1900 GMT.

Voters will elect provincial assemblies in each of the country’s nine provinces, and a new national parliament which will then choose the next president.

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