Cape Town - Voters waited in winding queues across South Africa a few hours before polling stations were due to close on Wednesday, as the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) said the fifth all-race elections were drawing a massive turnout in cities.
"The most pressing challenge we are facing is the extremely high turnout in urban areas," IEC chair Pansy Tlakula said in Pretoria.
"It should be remembered that we have the highest number of voters registered in South Africa's history... 25.3 million," she added.
Polls were due to close at 21:00, and the IEC said the first results were expected to come in about an hour later.
Analysts have said turnout would prove a key factor in the ANC's election fortunes, with any significant stay away likely to reduce the 66% majority it won five years ago.
After casting his ballot in Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma acknowledged it was a "challenging" election and said his wish for the poll was that "the voting is as peaceful is as it must be".
After election tents went up in flames in Bekkersdal, 50km west of Johannesburg on Tuesday night, calm prevailed as police and military poured into that and other townships plagued by service delivery protests in the run-up to the election.
Electoral officials in Gauteng noted a low turnout of young voters. Across the province the born-free generation appeared largely absent, or ambivalent about the first election in which they were old enough to vote.
In Krugersdorp Vuyo Dike, 20, said he would not vote.
"I feel that you're not assured that your vote will be returned with development. Parties win but don't focus on service delivery," he said.
In Diepsloot, a first time voter said waiting in the sun was a pain, and proposed the IEC allow people to do it via text message in 2019.
"As a born-free, I feel we should not be standing in long, winding queues in the hot sun while today's technology is so advanced," said 20-year-old Annah Molla.
"I will not vote again next time as long as I have to queue like this."
In Springs, where service delivery protesters have called for a stay-away, a young shack-dweller wearing a red Economic Freedom Fighters beret said he had no intention of voting.
He said government had "not changed anything" in the 20 years since the country's first democratic elections in 1994, the year in which he was born.
In contrast, striking miners in the platinum belt queued patiently to cast their ballots at Wonderkop and Freedom Park, near Rustenburg. Thousands of votes had been cast by mid afternoon.
"I have voted. I trust my vote to bring change in my area," said Luxolo Ndabendi, one of the miners that have been on strike at Lonmin, Impala Platinum, and Anglo American Platinum since January 23.
"Although I have voted the situation is the same. I am still starving. I live in a shack."
In the Western Cape, which analysts predicted the Democratic Alliance would retain with a bigger majority, queues snaked around polling stations on the Cape Flats as was the case in 2009, when voting was extended at many.
The war of words between the Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress continued on election day after the Electoral Court upheld a complaint about the text message the opposition party sent to 1.5 million voters in Gauteng, saying: "The Nkandla report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246m home."
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the DA was in contempt of court for failing to retract the message and apologise.
"Instead, the DA is trying to subvert the impact of the judgment for party political gain," he said.
Analysts have said it is unclear to what extent the ANC would suffer at the polls for the Nkandla scandal after the opposition turned it into a central campaign issue. DA leader Helen Zille said it had become a symbol of the ruling party.
They have forecast that the ANC could shed up to five percent of its vote share in its toughest re-election bid yet, as once loyal voters stay at home in protest at economic hardship and poor service delivery.
But Precious Ndlovu, who lost her right leg in a car accident and walks with the help of crutches, said she would queue for as long as it took to vote for the ANC because the government had given her a disability grant.
"I get a grant to help me look after my family and so I want to vote for the party that provides for my children and I."
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