Johannesburg: Millions of South Africans on Tuesday turned in extremely high numbers braving the threats of disruption and sporadic violence to exercise their franchise in an election widely expected to return the ruling ANC to power, 20 years after anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela first took power in 1994.
About 25 million registered voters - roughly half the population - trickled into some 22,263 polling centres across the country from before dawn to exercise their right to vote in the fifth all-race elections.
Under the proportional representation system, South Africans voted for parties, not candidates, in two simultaneous ballots for national and provincial governments.
Independent Electoral Commission chair Pansy Tlakula said the sheer number of voters who had turned out in South Africa`s cities was causing some logistical problems.
"The most pressing challenge we are facing at the moment is the extremely high turnout at voting stations, especially those in urban and metro areas where long queues continue to be experienced," she said.
Authorities promised to keep stations open as long as it takes for people already in line to vote.
There was rioting in Bekkersdal township, south-west of Johannesburg, last evening and reports said some temporary polling stations had been burned down.
In some other areas, protesters threatened to disrupt polling over lack of service delivery.
The polls, the first in which the so-called `Born Frees` ? people born after 1994 in a democratic South Africa ? will cast their votes, are widely expected to return the African National Congress (ANC) to power that has ruled since 1994.
Except Western Cape Province where the main opposition party Democratic Alliance is in power, the ANC governs the other eight provinces.
The ANC is expected to win more than 60 per cent of the vote, even as its campaign has been hit by concern over economic problems such as high unemployment and a number of corruption scandals, analysts said.
In his hometown of rural Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma, who is expected to be returned to a second five-year term, arrived at a polling station to cast his vote amid loud ululating from women standing in the queue.
After casting his vote, 72-year-old Zuma urged all citizens to come out and cast their votes without directly calling on them to vote for his party.
"This is our right that we fought for. Among the rights that we have, this is the most important right ? to vote for your government," Zuma said.
But his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, expected to succeed Zuma in the next elections in five years` time, was more forthright as he cast his vote in Soweto, calling on voters to make their marks for the ANC.
These are the first elections since the death in December of Mandela, the country`s first black president.