Johannesburg - South Africans voted in the first "Born Free" election on Wednesday, with polls suggesting the ruling African National Congress will prevail even among those with no memory of white-minority rule.
Voters young and old wrapped up against the early morning chill to stand in long lines across the country, evoking memories of the huge queues that snaked through streets and fields for the historic all-race elections in 1994.
News24 spoke to some first time voters in Rondebosch, Cape Town. Watch.
"It is great voting for the first time. Now I have a say in the country's election and what is happening. It is something new in my life," said 18-year-old Mawande Nkoyi - a so-called post-apartheid "Born Free" - in the Cape Town township of Langa.
Voting ends at 21:00 on Wednesday and a firm idea of the outcome should emerge by midday on Thursday, although there is little doubt about the result.
Polls put ANC support at around 65%, only a shade lower than the 65.9% it won in the 2009 election that brought President Jacob Zuma to power.
The ANC's enduring popularity has surprised analysts who said the party could suffer as its glorious past recedes into history and voters focus instead on the sluggish economic growth and slew of scandals that have typified Zuma's first term.
Africa's most sophisticated economy has struggled to recover from a 2009 recession - its first since 1994 - and the ANC's efforts to stimulate growth and tackle 25% unemployment have been hampered by powerful unions.
His personal approval ratings have dipped, but Zuma appeared relaxed and assured as he voted at a school near Nkandla, ending what he described as a "very challenging" campaign.
"I hope that all voters will cast their votes free," he told reporters.
"This is our right that we fought for."
Barring a major upset, the stock market and rand should take the vote in their stride and could even gain if South Africa's reputation for stability relative to other emerging markets such as Brazil, Ukraine or Turkey is affirmed.
"Overall, the election is reassuringly boring," said Simon Freemantle, an economist at Standard Bank in Johannesburg.
"We know who's going to win and we know there are not going to be any radical policy changes. That is reassuring."
The ANC's nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, polled 16.7% nationwide in 2009 and, even though it has been gaining ground, is still seen too much as the political home of privileged whites to have mass appeal.
Instead, the most spirited challenge has come from the ultra-leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who models himself on Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, right down to the jaunty red beret.
However, even the EFF's noisy emergence is likely to have minimal overall impact, with polls putting its support at between 4 - 5%.
* How long were you in the queue? Report the time by clicking here.
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