Votes are being counted in South Africa’s election, with President Cyril Ramaphosa hoping to prevent a slide in support for the governing African National Congress (ANC).
With results declared in some 61% of districts, it has won about 56% of the ballot, well ahead of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) on 22%.
The ANC took 62% at the last general election in 2014.
Anger over the economy and corruption may have eroded its appeal.
The radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is in third place with 9%, based on the official early results.
Turnout was about 65% in the twin parliamentary and provincial elections – a drop compared to the 73% registered five years ago.
Some six million young people didn’t register to vote.
Full results are due on Saturday.
Strong mandate needed
Unsurprisingly the top three parties so far are the ANC, the DA and the EFF. But the party to watch is the ANC – not least because its support has dwindled in the last few years amid corruption scandals.
After sacking its beleaguered leader, Jacob Zuma, just under two years ago, the new man in charge, Cyril Ramaphosa, went on an anti-corruption campaign. He called this a “new dawn” for one of Africa’s oldest liberation movement? But did it work?
The numbers will help answer that. Under Mr Zuma, the party won by 62% in the last election – for some that’s the magic number to beat.
This will be a difficult ask this time around for the hugely divided party. Mr Ramaphosa needs a strong mandate – only then can he hope to affect real renewal within the party.
Then there is the DA, which increased its support in the last election from 17% to 22% but will be hoping to win more provinces this time around – and make inroads, particularly in areas where the ANC had previously been dominant.
Then there is the EFF, which needs to show that it can continue to grow its support base.
Provincially, the prize everyone is vying for is Gauteng – the economic hub of the country. Control that and you pretty much control the whole country. This will also be an indication of whether Mr Ramaphosa’s message to business has been effective.
The president’s apology
Casting his vote in the country’s sixth democratic national election since apartheid ended 25 years ago, President Ramaphosa acknowledged the “rampant corruption” of recent years.
“We have made mistakes but we have been sorry about those mistakes and we are saying our people should reinvest their confidence in us,” he said.
“Corruption got into the way, patronage got into the way and not focusing on the needs of our people got in the way.”
The ANC, which led the fight against apartheid, has governed the country since 1994.
Why has the ANC lost support?
Young people queuing to vote spoke of their difficulties in finding jobs, with unemployment at 27%.
One young voter said her future employment prospects were on her mind. “I don’t feel confident about getting the job I want,” she said.
“I’m a member of the ANC but I didn’t vote for them this time,” construction worker Thabo Makhene told Reuters news agency. “They need to catch a wake-up. The way they run the state, mishandling state funds, they’ve lost their morals.”
However, many voters stayed loyal to the ANC.
Esau Zwane, 90, waiting to vote in Soweto, Johannesburg, lived under white-minority rule. He told the BBC he was celebrating “that our country is now ruled by black people”.
Votes are cast for parties, with seats in the 400-member National Assembly allocated according to the share of the vote gained by each party.
These MPs then elect a president.