MARIKANA, South Africa — Voters cast ballots across South Africa on Wednesday after a long campaign season that betrayed the governing African National Congress party’s internal cracks, highlighted President Jacob G. Zuma’s deepening unpopularity, and hinted at a realignment of the nation’s politics in the years ahead.
Hours before voting began at 7 a.m., South Africans lined up by the hundreds at polling stations, less to choose from a long list of parties than to pronounce judgment on the ANC, the liberation movement that has governed since the end of apartheid in 1994 but has become mired in corruption scandals in recent years. If the polls prove correct, the ANC will steamroll to another victory, though with fewer votes than in the past.
Here in Marikana, a platinum mining town where police killed 34 striking miners in 2012 in the most brutal display of force by the authorities in the postapartheid era, voters began lining up at 2 a.m. at the Marikana Combined School. By 7 a.m., the queue stretched out of the school grounds and snaked around a column of trees; most of the voters, some wearing sweaters and wool hats in the autumn chill, live in a nearby squatters’ camp of tin shacks.
Last week, Zuma canceled a planned visit here at the last minute, a few days after protesters angry at the government’s handling of the strike and its aftermath burned down an ANC office. Many voters expressed dislike of the president but said they could not turn against the ANC, underscoring the party’s continuing strength even in places with the most disaffected residents.
“The government is not right, it is corrupt,” said Wandisile Sijawe, 35, an electrician at a mine who voted for the ANC, as he has his entire adult life. “The problem is with the president, not with the ANC. If the party makes a swap at the top, it will still be good. Zuma is not the ANC.”
The fifth general election in a democratic South Africa, it was the first time that the “born free” generation, made up of those born since 1994 with no direct experience of apartheid, was able to vote. It was also the first election since Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and the party’s leader, died in December. The ANC and its allies used his memory to appeal to older voters.
“They took us from the darkness into the light — how could I vote for any other party?” said Nomanesi Zikolo, 45, a single mother of two, referring to the ANC’s role not only in liberating blacks but also in providing her home with electricity for the first time in 1999.
Voting appeared to proceed peacefully, though amid a heavy police and military presence, in several poor black townships surrounding Johannesburg, where rioting youths, angry at living conditions, have held protests for months and tried to bar the ANC from their communities. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, is expected to do better than in the 2009 election. Focusing on the need to create jobs, the Alliance has widened its appeal beyond its traditional core of white South Africans by drawing in middle-class blacks.
Full official results are not expected before Friday or possibly Saturday.