The ruling African National Congress (ANC) was poised for its third electoral landslide in a decade yesterday, as millions of South Africans flocked to the polls.
Maids and millionaires queued patiently from early morning at polling stations across the country, which ranged from shanty-town tents to plush suburban town halls.
President Thabo Mbeki, casting his vote, said: "The big day has come." He could afford to be relaxed: opinion polls predict an ANC win of between 65 and 72 per cent, depending on turnout.
The ANC's popularity highlights the failure of the fractured opposition and the continued gratitude of non-whites for an end to racist white rule a decade ago. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the liberation hero, said as he cast his vote: "Often they say the first election after democracy is the last. Many countries degenerate into dictatorships. We are disproving that."
But for many poor voters, the sheen of ANC popularity is starting to wear thin. While Nelson Mandela, the former president, and Mr Mbeki, his successor, have introduced a phalanx of impressive reforms, South Africa is still dogged by sky-high unemployment and crime, and an unparalleled HIV/Aids pandemic.
Yesterday, thousands of people came to vote at Marathon, a squatter camp near Johannesburg. Patrick Nyhudu stood in a line that snaked through the maze of tin-and-cardboard shacks. He was angry because his daughter, nine, had been raped by a neighbour last Friday.
He said: "He admitted it to me. He said he did it twice. Twice. I took him straight to the police, otherwise the community would have killed him." Mr Nyhudu was ditching the ANC for a small opposition party.
A total of 37 parties contested the poll, ranging from the New National Party - the rebranded party of one-time apartheid rulers - to the Pan Africanist Congress, which once ran under the slogan, "One settler, one bullet". There were no reports of violence in KwaZulu-Natal, the scene of a mass rampage a decade ago.
* Police have arrested 43 armed former soldiers suspected of planning to disrupt yesterday's election, a spokesman said. He added that the former members of the South African army were detained in Durban on Tuesday night, as they apparently discussed plans to disrupt voting in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
Cynthia Simango, 22, student
"The past 10 years has seen big changes in my life. It is much easier for me to get a job than under apartheid. If it was still here then maybe I would be cleaning in a white man's house but now I can sit in an office if I want to.
The ANC government is doing its best. On HIV/Aids, they have introduced condoms, and it is a personal choice if you use them or not.
Concerning race, I think both sides are making an effort to make it work. But I don't think all whites have accepted the changes."
Stephen Nale, car dealer
"The first vote in 1994 was emotional. This time it's about making sure the correct government is in place. From now on, the ANC will be judged in terms of what they have done.
I would give the government eight out of 10. And credit must be given to the white minority because they embraced the new government. It could have turned out like Israel and Palestine; very ugly.
I think Thabo Mbeki needs another term to complete his promises."
Allen Denham, 28, operations manager
"It's important to vote. You don't want to end up in a situation like Rhodesia with a one-party government. Here the ANC has done a 50/50 job. There's a lot of crime and money-laundering but, otherwise, it's been okay.
Ten years ago there was a lot of fear but it has got better. I think we have all worked together for a stronger country and I am sure it's going to get better. But, as a white, there is a lot of discrimination. White men can't get jobs these days.''
Ida Khumalo, 33, domestic worker
"I work in a white household. Much has changed since 1994 but there are many problems. For example, my family still lives in a shack in Freedom Park because they cannot find a house.
"Today I will vote for the Democratic Alliance [opposition]. It is better that government goes back to the white people because there is no work. Thabo Mbeki is a good leader but he has failed on things like Aids. A lot of people are dying but they can't get the medicines. I have lost five in my family."
Bitsi Mofokeng, 32, crane driver
"Ten years ago we were very positive, and I'm still hopeful. There has been some poverty eradication: my family has just been given a government house in Eastern Free State. Now we have electricity and water.
"Between white and black it's really working well. But on the negative side, crime is giving us so many headaches every day. And we need more jobs. Mbeki is a good leader, and maybe the new government can do something about it. I'm hoping it will be ANC again."
Stephen Ndhlovu, 53, labourer
"I work for a white family that lives near here. Since 1994 my life has changed but not too much. Now when you go out, you are free. There are no police who are asking for an ID card, or putting you in jail. But the jobs are not there. I'm working part-time as a painter, earning about 150 rand (£12.65) a day. But work is hard to find, very hard.
"Voting is very important to us because I try to make my life better. But I'm still not sure who I'm going to vote for yet."
Patricia Mafatle, 39, nurse
"I've just voted and I am so excited. I like the ANC very much. They have done so much for us, I speak English and my children are all in private school. We've moved from a poorer neighbourhood I live in my own house, but 24 of my relatives are in RDP [government] houses.
"The racist thing is still there. Maybe after another 10 years it will be better. I'm still careful about what I say to a white person like you.
"That's the way we were brought up. But I don't want my kids to be like that."
Leslie Abrahams, 37, panel beater
"How long do you have to listen to me? The white man is made to suffer because of past deeds. What Mr Mugabe is doing is what they want to do here. I'm not white but my race group was seen as part of the problem. Hence we are seen as co-conspirators.
"Standards have dropped in all aspects of our lives. That's why I wish to visit the Australian embassy. The main problem is incompetence. The unfortunate thing is that in black culture they are taught not to question the king."
Matilda Tshangela, 46, unemployed
"When you come to vote you don't know the truth. They say they will give us jobs and houses, but still we have nothing.
I wasn't going to bother coming here. But people from the parties were going around saying that if I didn't vote I wouldn't be able to get a government house.
I used to clean house for a white family until last Friday. The woman used to say, 'You black people, this is your government, you can get everything'. I thought that was sick, so I left."
Viwe, 22, unemployed
"I'm not voting; I don't believe in it. Anyway, I've left my ID card at home in the countryside. So, I'm getting my hair done instead.
I don't see any changes taking place. I can't get a job, and neither can most people I know. We live in this squatter camp, on the site of an old gold mine.
There is no water, no electricity and no lavatories. And I can't get a job.
Still, the ANC are the ones that have lifted black people up. So if I was voting, I would vote for them."
Matthew du Toit, 18, factory worker
"I've just come from voting. I want to see if it's going to bring any changes. Otherwise I'm not going to bother next time.
"I've just left school. Kids from different races got on all right, but sometimes there were a lot of fights. We swear at each other and insult each other's mother. A lot of blacks have moved into government housing in this area, and it has brought some tensions.
"I work in a fridge factory and I really struggled to get this job."
Beverley Grace, 36, electronics worker
"The country has gone from bad to worse. In 1994 I voted for the ANC and now I am voting again to put the country back to where it was.
"OK, under apartheid I wasn't allowed in public lavatories or first-class trains, but we were brought up in the system. Now we have freedom but jobs have moved overseas, and hospitals and schools are closing. They are running the country on hate, blaming the old government, but all that was 10 years ago. After the voting , we will be forgotten again."
Eunice Ellen, 35, housewife
"It's very important to vote. I'm hoping my party will win, and my vote could be the one that makes a difference.
"Things have changed a lot. We are all living together but the crime rate is very high. My friends' children have got involved in drugs and crime in the area.
"Relations between black and white are so-so. Racism always comes into it because we were brought up with that. For instance, in the flats where we live, the old people don't respect us. They say we are dirty, like criminals."
Pamela Shreeve, 50s, housewife
"We want fairness for everyone, it doesn't matter what their colour. You see there are more blacks than us, that's why there is so much stealing.
The ANC hasn't achieved anything. And we have too many immigrants; these Nigerians are selling drugs. It's the worst problem.
I know three people who have been shot, a guy I was supposed to marry, my sister-in-law and my niece. It's all by blacks who are looking for money and cellphones."
Auxilia Maomela, 22, unemployed
"I grew up in Soweto and this is the first time I'm voting. I can remember so clearly the day Mandela was released, I was coming from church. That was a real act of freedom.
"I think that things are getting better. If you had a stove in the past, it takes time to get used to a microwave. I used to study engineering at university of but had to drop out because of financial problems.But I can't blame the ANC. In big companies these male Boers are still in charge."Reuse content