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26 Million South Africans Are Eligible To Vote In Wednesday's Election


South Africans are voting for new leaders tomorrow in what is being called a defining election - 25 years after Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came to power. With the formal end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC promised to end inequality among South Africans. So has the governing party lived up to that pledge? From Johannesburg, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: South Africa's political parties held their final election campaign rallies Sunday. President Cyril Ramaphosa took over the leadership of the African National Congress party and the country from disgraced president Jacob Zuma last year amid mounting allegations of deep government graft and official influence peddling. Ramaphosa told South Africans those guilty of corruption will have no place in his Cabinet, the ANC or Parliament and apologized to his compatriots.


PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: We admit that we have made mistakes. And we put ourselves before our people and say yes. But it is only those who are doing nothing who don't make mistakes.

QUIST-ARCTON: South Africa's opposition is having none of it. It accuses the ANC of drowning in rampant official corruption and failing to deliver fully on basic needs, such as housing, jobs and land distribution. Mmusi Maimane, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, says the ANC is no longer relevant as a political movement and his party is a better option nationally.


MMUSI MAIMANE: We are closer to the dream of ensuring that there's a job in every home; money meant for the people is spent on the people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Another thorn in the flesh of the governing party is the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters led by erstwhile ANC youth leader Julius Malema. He told his supporters the ANC is afraid of the EFF, established just five years ago, and says the ANC should expect to be booted out of office in key provinces this election.


JULIUS MALEMA: You have shaken the ANC. The ANC is very scared of you. The ANC is shaking in Gauteng, in KwaZulu-Natal.

QUIST-ARCTON: Despite the woes facing Cyril Ramaphosa, including political infighting within the ANC, commentator Verashni Pillay says the opposition has got a problem. Many South Africans seem to believe in their new president, though they wonder if he can reform his corruption-plagued party.

VERASHNI PILLAY: That is the big question that we're all sort of grappling with because, quite frankly, Ramaphosa is a very convincing candidate. People are really convinced by him - called him the honest reformer. And I think that really does capture who he is. And he does seem quite determined to fix things.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ramaphosa has a hard historic act to follow. This month marks a quarter of a century since his mentor Nelson Mandela was sworn in as South Africa's first democratically elected and first black president, amid high hopes for a nonracial South Africa. Social analyst Tessa Dooms says the problem now for young South Africans like her is a lack of trust in their leaders.

TESSA DOOMS: We have the lowest voter registration among young people than we have ever had. So the uptake for young people aged 18, 19 and 20, which is definitely first-time voters, is below 20% of that cohort. So we have a big crisis - apathy - saying we are not happy, we don't trust the choices that are on the ballot, and we don't even know if we trust the system.

QUIST-ARCTON: Just some of the challenges facing South Africa's leaders, who are urging voters to turn out for tomorrow's election.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.