Millions of South Africans will vote tomorrow in the eagerly awaited fifth elections since the end of apartheid, whose outcome is likely to be determined by the political party with the most convincing message; how to tackle the challenges of service delivery, inequality and corruption.
With Election Day just a few hours away, campaigning ended on Sunday, 4th May, as political parties tried to outdo each other in the race for voters.
Service delivery, the economy and corruption were the major campaign issues for all the political parties.
The African National Congress (ANC) led by incumbent President Jacob Zuma will contest the election against several other parties, including the main opposition, Democratic Alliance, Agang South Africa and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Opposition parties promised better service delivery and good governance, with the EFF led by Julius Malema focusing on equitable distribution of land and resources.
Political parties went out of their way to win the hearts of South Africans, particularly first-time voters - the generation born after 1994 and popularly known as “born frees”.
Young people are seen as a critical constituency, as two out of three South Africans are below the age of 35.
The biggest concerns for the “born-frees” have been whether or not they will find jobs, as well as how to combat corruption and improve service delivery.
Despite registering significant progress on the economic front over the past 20 years, not all South Africans have benefited from the new political and economic dispensation.
Unemployment remains high at around 24% of the population, according to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), although some estimates suggest about half of young people in South Africa are unemployed.
Inequality remains, too. On average, a white household earns six times more than a black one.
According to a 2012 report by Stats SA, while incomes for black households increased by an average 169% over the previous 10 years, their annual earnings were R60 613 (about US$6 987), or a sixth of that for whites.
SA government has used state welfare programmes to try to close the inequality gap. The proportion of the population that access social grants almost doubled to 25% in 2010, up from only 13% in 2002.
As a result of the inequality, crime is high. There is high rate of rape, murder and hijacking of vehicles.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), more than 25 million eligible voters had, by February, registered to vote in the national and provincial elections, out of a total population counted at 52 million in the 2011 census.
South Africa uses a system of Proportional Representation in which the electorate votes for a political party, not individuals. The political party gets a share of seats in Parliament, in direct proportion to the number of votes won in the election.
Each registered political party submits a list of candidates to the IEC in advance of the election and the IEC determines the number of seats for each party, based on the election results.
Half of the 400 seats in the National Assembly are elected from a single national constituency while the nine provinces function as nine constituencies for election of the other half.
The President is elected by the new National Assembly from among its members, usually the leader of the majority party. The candidate resigns from Parliament upon election as president and becomes the head of state and government and commander-in-chief of the defence force.
The nine provincial legislatures have between 30 and 80 members each, depending on the size of the province and these are elected on a separate ballot. Each legislature then elects 10 members to the National Council of Provinces.
National elections follow a five-year cycle and the ANC has won all national elections since the agreement to end apartheid in 1994, anchoring its election campaign on employment and economic development.
The IEC, on 25 April, published the final list of candidates for the national and provincial elections.
The list has a total of 8 651 candidates standing for election on the regional, national and provincial lists of 45 political parties. This is slightly lower than the 9 117 candidates who contested in the last elections of 2009.
According to the list, there are 2 089 candidates on national lists, 2 165 candidates on regional lists and 4 397 candidates on provincial lists contesting for 400 National Assembly and 430 provincial legislature seats, respectively.
It also shows men continue to make up the bulk of candidates, totaling nearly 60% of the total candidates, compared to 40.2% of women.
This is despite the fact that female registered voters outnumber men 55.9% to 45.1%. South Africa is, however, ranked second in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) region for women representation after the April 2009 elections, at 42.3%, with women occupying 169 seats in the National Assembly, according to the Sadc Gender Monitor 2013.
The elections have attracted a lot of international interest, with several foreign observers already deployed or in the process of deploying their missions.
Sadc launched a 100-member election observer mission, led by the special advisor to the Namibian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tuliameni Kalomoh.
Speaking during the launch of the Sadc Election Observer Mission (SEOM), Sadc Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax underscored the importance of a peaceful, free, fair, transparent and credible electoral process in the South African elections.
“It is important to underscore the paramount importance of the current elections, as they come at the time when we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the new multi-racial and democratic South Africa, after the end of the Apartheid in the country,” she said.
Dr Tax said the presence of the SEOM was not only to support the democratic process in South Africa but also to ensure the provisions of the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections are adhered to in the conduct of democratic elections.
The SEOM is expected to produce a report on the conduct of the polls in line with the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which encourage member states to promote common political values and systems.
The African Union (AU) is also expected to deploy a 53-member strong observer mission comprising representatives of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), human rights groups and civil society.
The mission will be led by former Ghanaian president, John Kufuor.