Archbishop Desmond Tutu cast his vote along with millions of other South Africans while issuing a warning that the ANC should not take victory for granted.
"In the first years of our freedom most people would have tended to vote ANC, now it is no longer quite so straightforward," the retired Cape Town cleric and Nobel laureate said. "I feel good but it isn't like the previous elections. Quite unlike previous elections, there's a lot of heart-searching." Dr Tutu, who has publicly questioned whether the ANC leader Jacob Zuma is fit to govern, refused to reveal who he had voted for yesterday.
Many in the ruling party, buoyed by a strong campaign and favourable opinion polls, believe that they will come close to maintaining their 70 per cent share of the vote.
However the Archbishop warned them against viewing South Africans as "voting cattle" in what appeared to be a coded call for a protest ballot against the ANC. "People have to make decisions and some decisions go against the inclinations," he said.
Election officials said that early voting had been strong and the country was on course for an 80 per cent turnout from its 23.1 million registered voters. Neither of the two main opposition parties were making bold predictions but many analysts expect a comfortable win for the ruling party.
"It has been a hard campaign, it has been a hard and gruelling campaign," said a tired-looking Helen Zille, the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
She again referred to what was at stake for voters in the elections, the results of which are due on Saturday at the earliest. "I know that they know what to do to prevent a criminal state and they'll go out today and do it." Voting in Johannesburg, Bishop Mvume Dandala, who heads the ANC breakaway faction Cope, launched another attack on Mr Zuma: "We will not allow that man to get away with the kinds of things we have seen happening."
Mr Zuma voted in his home state of KwaZulu-Natal, where the ANC is hoping for an unusually strong showing. Archbishop Tutu has been at loggerheads with Mr Zuma over allegations of corruption made against the president-in-waiting.
That enmity only increased earlier this year when South African authorities refused to give an entry visa to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel laureate, the Dalai Lama.Reuse content