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South Africans Begin Voting In Election To Decide President, Parliament


South Africans are voting in parliamentary and provincial elections today. It's a chance for voters to send a message, if they choose. The African National Congress has dominated the country since the end of apartheid in the 1990s. Nelson Mandela of the ANC became the first democratically elected president a quarter century ago. Today the ANC is also known for misgovernment and corruption. A bit earlier, we found NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Johannesburg. Hi there, Ofeibea. Where are you exactly?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings. Greetings from Rosebank Primary School, where two little girls - one black, one white - were racing up and down the forecourt with Georgie (ph), a golden retriever, who's come with his owners to vote this morning. So there's - you know, it's a public holiday here. So people are cool, and people are lining up or waiting to vote.

INSKEEP: OK. So what are you seeing there, and what are you hearing?

QUIST-ARCTON: It depends who you speak to. Black, white, the different races here in South Africa - some say, we stay with the status quo, which is the governing ANC, despite the fact that the ANC is seen to have been corrupt, mired in influence peddling and so on. And that's the view of Nkosikhulule Nyembezi (ph). And he says, as long as people end up in court and on trial and in jail for cheating and looting, that's a good thing. But he says, you know, South Africa is a young republic after 25 years, and that's why we must give this country a chance. Have a listen.

NKOSIKHULULE NYEMBEZI: Teenage democracy - you show adolescence, you want to show your identity and your personality. So 25 years after democracy, it's maturing. Here's an adult, a young adult, beginning to take decisions. Because the troubling thing is that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening.

INSKEEP: Ofeibea, I want to ask about the African National Congress. We mentioned their history. We mentioned their background in the opening up of South Africa, in the ending of apartheid. It's given them so much credibility, which raises a question - even if people are dissatisfied with their government, is there a real, credible opposition?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, that's the problem. There is an official opposition, and it is controlling. It is in charge in a couple of key provinces here in South Africa. Now, the ANC's support has been sliding over the years for these very many reasons. Not only corruption, which dates back 10 years under disgraced President Jacob Zuma, but also because many feel that the ANC has not fully delivered on its pledges for a better life for all South Africans. And of course, that means jobs. Youth unemployment is so high.

It also means housing, electricity and, of course, this very sensitive issue of land reform and land distribution because, of course, most of the land in South Africa is owned by white people and not the majority black. So those are the sorts of issues South Africans are dealing with. Some say the ANC is the party to continue with; others say no, give others a chance. They've had 25 years, and they've let us down.

INSKEEP: Is this seen clearly as a referendum on the ANC, then?

QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, definitely. People are saying this is a defining vote. A quarter of a century after Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first democratically elected president here, the first black president, people say, yes, this is the record card of the ANC, and they have been found wanting. But, you know, we'll see when the results come out. I'm not in Congo. I'm not in Nigeria. The elections have happened - not postponed - and South Africa's results will be known pretty soon.

INSKEEP: Ofeibea, it's always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you. Ciao.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in South Africa. 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.