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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 18:22 GMT
SA local polls to test government
Single voter at polling station
The ANC is more concerned about apathy than the opposition
South Africans have voted in local elections seen as a big test for the African National Congress, which has governed the country since 1994.

As President Thabo Mbeki cast his vote, he urged South Africans to turn out at polling stations in large numbers.

However, although the ANC should win most seats, voter turnout appears to have been low across the country.

Frustration over the slow pace of service delivery has caused frustration and occasionally led to violence.

At the Orlando West polling station in Soweto, there was a steady and orderly stream of people, old and young, casting their votes reports the BBC's Peter Biles.

I hope that all our people will come out to vote because we need a very strong and legitimate local government
President Thabo Mbeki

Heavy rain over the eastern half of the country left some polling stations cut off by floods, and ballot papers had to be flown in by helicopter.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) reported that all stations were operating by the afternoon.

In Cape Town, power cuts mean vote counting is set to take place by candlelight.

Despite huge support nationally, the ANC has performed poorly at local level with the absence of a strong credible opposition weakening the country's young democracy.

When President Mbeki cast his vote in Pretoria, he spoke of how important it was for voters to make the effort.

"I hope that all our people, all 21 million [registered voters], will come out to vote because we need a very strong and legitimate local government," he told AP news agency.

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon predicted that his party would do better than the last local elections in 2000.

Former President Nelson Mandela voted near his home in Johannesburg's Houghton suburb.

"Even if I go to my grave I will wake up and come and vote," Mr Mandela said.

Turnout factor

Polls opened at 0700 (0500 GMT) across the country with more than 60,000 police officers and about 14,000 reservists deployed to ensure a peaceful vote.

Khutsong

As well as poor service delivery, corruption among local councillors is another major concern.

In the past month, the government has also been troubled by protests in one particular township, Khutsong, 100km west of Johannesburg, where there has been opposition to planned municipal boundary changes.

The BBC News website's Justin Pearce in Khutsong says most voters there appeared to be boycotting the elections, with no more than 20 votes cast at polling booths there all morning.

President Mbeki said Khutsong voters made up only a fraction of 1% of the country's 21 million voters. "I understand why you ask about them, but let's not concentrate only on them," he told journalists at the IEC headquarters in Pretoria.

Protests

Any discontent with the ANC is likely to be reflected by low voter turnout rather than by a swing to the opposition.

Cape Town is one of the few parts of South Africa where the ANC does not have an overwhelming majority and could be defeated.

ANC election posters on portable toilets in Soweto
The ANC is criticised for failing to deliver services to all

There is anger over 10 days of power cuts which the DA has used to illustrate what it says is the failure of the ANC government to deliver good services.

Polling stations are equipped with candles.

The government blamed sabotage at the local nuclear reactor for the power cuts, but this suggestion has been dismissed by the opposition.

"I think the fact that the power outages have happened in such a dramatic and unpleasant fashion reinforces the fact that we need to pay more attention to the basics and not just the politics," DA leader Tony Leon said after casting his vote.




BBC NEWS:VIDEO AND AUDIO
The housing conditions in a South African township



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