Local elections 'key for ANC'
Pretoria - The ANC's performance in Wednesday's poll is key after it "slipped up" in the 2009 national elections, University of the Witwatersrand analyst Professor Susan Booysen said.
It was also an important indicator of President Jacob Zuma's leadership, after he was elected to succeed Thabo Mbeki at the end of 2007.
"If this is the second election in a row where the ANC slips, it is difficult to see how it will turn that trend around," she said.
It would also reflect poorly on Zuma's leadership - a year before the party's next elective conference is scheduled to take place.
Internal ANC politics
According to Booysen, internal ANC politics featured heavily in intra-party dynamics this time around, citing widespread protests against the party's candidate selection process as an example. In some cases the ANC had to defend its stance on the matter in courts.
"This election is very much about the way the ANC manages its internal problems... the list problems are dragging on and colouring these elections."
Zuma had acknowledged there were problems and promised that a task team would be appointed to probe whether councillor candidates had been selected correctly.
Booysen said this process would have to include looking at the ANC's regional and provincial leadership, because some candidates had been selected by these structures with a view to securing positions for themselves.
"Remember, they are electing new provincial leadership later this year and then the next national (ANC) election follows in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) next year, so there is a lot at stake for many of these structures," she said.
She agreed Wednesday's election would largely be a "two-horse race" between the ANC and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance.
"It's a two-horse race plus a couple of kingmakers."
The "kingmakers" would be the smaller parties who may enter into coalitions. These would begin taking shape after election results were announced.
She predicted the parties controlling municipalities would not emerge immediately upon release of results, but about two weeks later following much "horsetrading".
Booysen said while the DA appeared to be making progress, it had a long way to go before it could compete on a par with the ANC.
The run-up to the 2011 local polls had been characterised by energetic, loud and sometimes downright ridiculous campaigning. Voters were courted with vows of heavenly access and threats of angering ancestors, dancing and mudslinging over unenclosed toilets.
Booysen said the energy in the campaigning ahead of the poll had been entertaining, but local elections were really about "issues", and very few parties had been clear on problems affecting specific communities.
"Sometimes I sensed some desperation in the campaigning," she laughed.
Voting was underway across the country and results were expected to begin filtering into the IEC's results centre between 21:00 and 22:00.