South Africans will deliver their verdict on an ANC government whose last term of office has been beset by corruption, state capture and poor governance when they go to the polls in the country's sixth democratic election on Wednesday.
Voting stations countrywide will open their doors at 07:00 and will remain open until 21:00. More than 27m South Africans out of an eligible voting population of almost 35m have registered to vote.
The governing ANC will be looking to limit the damage wrought on its support base by years of scandal, while the DA – the official opposition – is under pressure to maintain its growth trajectory. Julius Malema's EFF, formed in 2013 when he led his supporters out of the ANC, looks set to be the big winners with exponential growth in support expected.
The major battlegrounds will be Gauteng, the country's economic centre, and KwaZulu-Natal, traditionally the anchor of ANC support, where the governing party's majority is under pressure. And in the Western Cape the governing DA will have to resist a series of self-inflicted disasters and an assault by smaller parties if it is to retain control of the province.
News24 political analysts Ralph Mathekga and Dawie Scholtz agree the electorate will punish the ANC at the polls. The only question is by how much.
Mathekga said the ANC's support is going "one way" and it seems to be down. "I think it's pretty clear the ANC will be punished by voters. The only question is by how much. If, after everything that's been said and all the unhappiness about the last five years they aren't, then we're going to have to ask some serious questions about this country."
The ANC has been on a downward trajectory since 2004 when it registered support of 69.69% under the leadership of president Thabo Mbeki. In 2014 its support dropped to 62.15% and slumped to 54% in the municipal elections in 2016 when it also lost control of three metropolitan municipalities, including Johannesburg.
Scholtz believes there's no doubt the ANC will dip below their 2014 levels of support. "They will do worse than their previous outing. I believe their range is between 55% and 60%."
The election comes 15 months after the end of the scandal-ridden presidency of Jacob Zuma, who was deposed in February 2018. His term of office was characterised by state capture and corruption, with the governing party and the state seemingly beholden to private interests such as the Gupta family – who was very close to Zuma – and Bosasa, a company that used its proximity to the ANC to extract tenders from the state.
This has seen a number of crucial state institutions, such as SARS, the NPA and police, being attacked and undermined to prevent action against corrupt politicians, civil servants and businessmen.
The economy has also hit the skids over the past five years, with GDP growth stalling and regressing, debt levels increasing to its highest levels post-apartheid and the country's investment rating suffering a series of downgrades.
Scholtz says President Cyril Ramaphosa is the ANC's saving grace. "However, it is going to be interesting to see whether his popularity is enough to lift the ANC, or whether the brand damage done to the party is too extensive that even he cannot patch over the cracks. If the ANC can perform close to Ramaphosa's popularity levels then they'll do well."
Beyond the ANC, Mathekga believes one factor that makes this election different from previous polls is the almost unanimous agreement among South Africans that something is amiss in the political system.
"This is so irrespective of political affiliation or persuasion. Almost every South African agrees something is wrong and that there needs to be change. I believe there has been a shift in sentiment since 2014 and what is going to be significant about this election is that it will reveal to what extent voters are honest with themselves.
"I will be disappointed if after this election there isn’t a clear message from voters about what they believe and what they reject," Mathekga says.
Pollsters seem divided about what to expect from the election, with the country's most prominent recorders of pubic opinion this election – Ipsos and the IRR – differing on their expectations.
Ipsos, who has proven to be accurate in the past, put the ANC's support shortly before polling day at 61%, the DA at 19% and the EFF at 11%.
The IRR on Monday said its numbers show support for the ANC at 53%, the DA at 24% and the EFF at 14%.
Both were calculated on a voter turnout of between 70% and 71%.