By Justin Pearce
BBC correspondent in South Africa
As the general election approaches, it is not an easy time to be an opposition party in South Africa.
The policies of the opposition parties are similar to the ruling ANC
The ruling African National Congress carries the cachet of former liberation movement and will continue to attract widespread support, regardless of what mistakes the government might make.
Also its members span the ideological spectrum from communists to free marketeers, leaving the opposition parties no clear line of attack.
The result is a collection of opposition parties which are often distinguishable more by the personality and style of their leaders rather than by any clear ideological differences.
Fighting crime, creating jobs, and better health and education services are among the promises of all the opposition parties, as well as the ANC.
A feature of South African politics over the past decade has been the shifting pattern of sometimes unlikely alliances between the various groups.
The New National Party has entered an agreement with its old adversary the ANC, after its earlier relationship with the Democratic Alliance (DA) broke down.
The DA has formed a coalition government in KwaZulu-Natal with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), and intends to do so again if the two parties can between them secure a majority in that province.
The Democratic Alliance is the old opposition party from the pre-1994 white parliament.
Once shunned by most white South Africans because of its opposition to racist government, it has now, after a few realignments and name changes, become the biggest opposition party to the ANC, and the favourite choice of whites.
The DA avoids talking in racial terms, but these days, its biggest public relations headache is shaking off the accusations by the ANC and NNP that it is the guardian of white privilege.
Leon has raised the DA's media profile
A party that was distinctly neo-liberal in 1994 has now announced a number of policies more attractive to the poor and has more black candidates on its electoral list.
It has by far the highest media profile of any opposition party, due in large measure to its tough-talking leader Tony Leon.
1994 (as Democratic Party) - 1.7%
1999 (as Democratic Party) - 9.56%
Mr Leon's critics accuse him of knee-jerk negativity towards anything the government says or does - yet his party's spectacular growth between 1994 and 1999 suggests that his tactics have been the right way to make voters sit up and take notice.
The DA has the white vote in the bag - taking the party beyond its current support levels means winning black votes, and this election will be a test of how effectively it can do that.
The United Democratic Movement
The United Democratic Movement started life as an unlikely political marriage between two South African politicians.
Leader Bantu Holomisa first made his mark as prime minister of the Transkei, one of the nominally independent black puppet-states that were shunned by the liberation movements.
He later threw in his lot with the ANC and served in Nelson Mandela's cabinet, before forming the UDM in time for the 1999 elections, along with prominent National Party dissident Roelf Meyer.
Mr Meyer subsequently left the party and the UDM's ranks in parliament were badly hit by defections.
But much of the party's original support came from Mr Holomisa's personal following in the former Transkei (now part of Eastern Cape province).
As he tries to expand support in other areas, the UDM manifesto puts a strong emphasis on trustworthy government and opposing corruption, alongside the usual issues of jobs, education and security.
Mr Holomisa has also spoken of a need for greater state intervention in the economy, thus making himself one of the few opposition leaders to take on the ANC from the left flank.
New National Party
Just as the opposition in the old South Africa has returned as the opposition in the new, so the old party of government, the New National Party, is seeking a role at the side of the ANC in the post-apartheid government.
In the dying days of apartheid, the then National Party staged a political coup in attracting the support of most coloured (mixed race) voters, taking control of the coloured-majority Western Cape province.
It did so by exploiting racial tensions between coloureds and blacks.
By 1999 it had lost most of its old white support to the Democratic Party and the election result yielded no outright majority in the Western Cape.
An alliance with the DA ended acrimoniously, and the province is now run by an NNP-ANC coalition.
1994 (as National Party) - 20.3%
1999 - 6.87%
The NNP wants to continue that relationship and is emphasising its closeness to the ANC.
Yet ANC officials have warned that if they get a clear majority in the Western Cape, the ANC will run the province alone.
The NNP is concentrating its electoral efforts on the Western Cape, determined to keep at least a share in government in the one region where it stands a chance.
The Freedom Front came into being before the 1994 elections, at a time when the lack of a political voice for right-wing whites had prompted fears of an armed rebellion against a future democratic government.
The sharp decline in support in 1999 indicates that white fears about a post-apartheid South Africa had largely been appeased.
The FF is however honest about the fact that it is a party representing the interests of Afrikaners and other minorities.
"Whereas the transfer of 10 years ago meant 'freedom' to the majority, the tables have been turned inasmuch as that Afrikaners and other minorities have been confronted with new crises by the ANC during the past 10 years," its manifesto argues.
It mentions issues like the murder of white farmers, the emigration of whites prompted by affirmative action, and the decline in the official use of the Afrikaans language.
Despite the setback of the 1999 election, some commentators have speculated whether this year's poll could see the FF attract the support of some young white first-time voters with little previous interest in politics.
Inkatha Freedom Party
The Inkatha Freedom Party promises "common-sense proposals to address HIV/Aids, crime, unemployment, corruption and poverty.
"Our proposals are designed to give people control over their lives: a hand up, not a hand down."
Buthelezi served in the first post-apartheid government
This broadly liberal democratic position is probably not far enough removed from rival party manifestos to attract many undecided voters in this election.
The party won over a certain amount of white support immediately after the end of apartheid, but apart from that, its support base remains solidly among the Zulu ethnic group - although many members of this group are ardent ANC supporters.
The name of Inkatha is inseparable from that of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the party's veteran leader.
Mr Buthelezi has been minister of home affairs in the national government since 1994, the last survivor of the "Government of National Unity" model following the 1994 election.
Although his continued presence in government is at the discretion of the state president, this is no indication of a good relationship with the ANC.
The ANC-IFP rapprochement of the late 1990s has soured amid recent political violence, not to mention closer ties between the IFP and DA.
1994 - 10.53%
1999 - 8.58%
As always, the IFP will be strongest in KwaZulu-Natal province, but is unlikely to win an outright majority.
An IFP-DA coalition could, however, take control of the provincial government.
African Christian Democratic Party
"The African Christian Democratic Party believes that South Africa must be a nation in submission to Almighty God."
Its manifesto is a more explicitly Christian take on the same issues espoused by many of the other opposition parties: low-level decision making, tackling crime, economic empowerment.
The main distinction is the importance placed on halting "moral decay": the ACDP opposes abortion, pornography and the legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships, in contrast to the more liberal stance on these issues taken by the government since the end of apartheid.
1994 - 0.45%
1999 - 1.43%
It is on issues such as these that the ACDP can offer voters something that other parties do not, though its MPs have been forthright on a number of other issues, including HIV/Aids.
The Pan-Africanist Congress manifesto seems to touch on issues which should remain close to the hearts of the millions of South Africans who have seen little real change since the end of apartheid.
"Ten years after the first democratic elections in this country, the fundamental issues over which the PAC, together with the masses waged a liberation struggle against apartheid and related racism have not been addressed, namely the return of our land and equitable economic wealth redistribution."
It also has the historical credentials of a party that was once comparable to the ANC as a force against apartheid.
1994 - 1.24%
1999 - 0.71%
Yet its electoral support declined between 1994 and 1999, and recent reports suggest that the party is battling to raise the funds needed to register for the next election, let alone to conduct a campaign.
This has been attributed to party funders' concern over party disunity: the PAC suffered a walk-out at its 2003 congress, and the defection of MP Patricia de Lille has meant that the party has become quieter than ever before in parliament.
The only significant newcomer party in this election, the Independent Democrats is the creation of former PAC politician Patricia de Lille.
In Ms De Lille's favour is her history as an effective and uncompromising anti-apartheid activist, who continued to speak out on matters of principle (notably HIV/Aids policy) in the post-1994 parliament - first as a PAC MP, and later after taking advantage of controversial floor-crossing to form her own party.
The campaign manifesto centres on the concept of "bridging the divide", promising to "bring politics back to the people of South Africa and ensure that the voices of communities are not silenced by government".
Critics question whether the ID is offering anything in terms of policy which has not been said before, and whether indeed South Africa needed yet another opposition party.
Ms De Lille herself is the party's strongest draw card, but the strength of her own personality and image means that she could have a battle convincing the public that the ID is more than a one-woman show.