Millions vote in record SA election

Janine Erasmus and Mary Alexander

South Africa’s fourth democratic election on 22 April 2009 was marked by massive enthusiasm from South Africans, with 17.9-million people, or 77.3% of the country’s 23-million registered voters, casting their ballots across the country.

This was the highest number of votes cast since the first democratic elections in 1994, when 19.5-million voters, 87% of the electorate, made their mark.

In the previous general election held in 2004 there was a 76% turnout, with 15.6-million votes cast, and in 1999 an 89% turnout, with 15.9-million votes cast.


As expected, the national elections saw the African National Congress (ANC) returned to power, but with a slightly reduced total of 65.6% of the vote, or 264 seats in the National Assembly of parliament. Crucially, this saw the ruling party losing its two-thirds majority, the majority required to make changes to South Africa’s Constitution.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) came in with 16.6% of the vote, giving it 67 seats in parliament and again making it the official opposition. The Congress of the People, a party formed by former ANC members in 2008, came in third with 7.4% of the vote and 30 seats in parliament.

The ANC also came out tops in the provincial vote, winning a majority in eight of the country’s nine provinces. The exception was the Western Cape, which went to the DA with a 51.46% majority.

Party % votes cast Seats in National Assembly
African National Congress 65.90% 264
Democratic Alliance 16.66% 67
Congress of the People 7.42% 30
Inkatha Freedom Party 4.55% 18
Independent Democrats 0.92% 4
United Democratic Movement 0.85% 4
Freedom Front Plus 0.83% 4
African Christian Democratic Party 0.81% 3
United Christian Democratic Party 0.37% 2
Pan Africanist Congress 0.27% 1
Minority Front 0.25% 1
Azanian People’s Organisation 0.22% 1
African People’s Convention 0.20% 1

Province ANC DA
Eastern Cape 69.79% 9.97 13.32% 0.09% 0.45% 3.95% 0.23% 0.59% 1.61%
Free State 71.99% 12.11% 11.12% 0.21% 0.17% 0.32% 1.61% 0.70% 1.77%
Gauteng 64.83% 21.29% 7.78% 1.47% 0.57% 0.39% 1.37% 0.89% 1.41%
KwaZulu-Natal 64.07% 10.35% 1.55% 20.55% 0.20% 0.21% 0.18% 0.59% 2.30%
Limpopo 85.37% 3.71% 7.22% 0.05% 0.09% 0.33% 0.54% 0.63% 2.06%
Mpumalanga 85.90% 7.60% 2.89% 0.54% 0.12% 0.23% 0.83% 0.51% 1.38%
Northern Cape 61.18% 13.09% 15.96% 0.14% 4.73% 0.12% 1.19% 0.98% 2.61%
North West 73.96% 8.71% 8.44% 0.15% 0.44% 0.51% 1.43% 0.74% 5.62%
Western Cape 32.89% 48.83% 9.07% 0.06% 4.49% 0.77% 0.86% 1.62% 1.41%

Long hours

Live television coverage throughout the day reported inconvenient incidents at several of the country’s 19 726 voting stations, such as a shortage of ballot papers, pens and other essential items. There was also a smattering of violence and controversy but, for the most part, the day’s proceedings went smoothly.

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said many voting stations were still operating long after their scheduled closing times in order to accommodate the thousands of people who turned up to vote.

In Gauteng, said the IEC, some 40% of voting stations were still open after midnight. The cut-off time for the closing of voting stations was 9:00pm and only people who were already in the queue were allowed to cast their vote after this time. Anyone who arrived after the deadline was turned away, but with stations remaining open for 14 hours, there was little excuse for tardiness.

Forty political parties vied for votes in this year’s elections and, of these, 28 contested seats for the National Assembly.

The 2009 general election was also remarkable because it was the first time since 1994 that South Africans living overseas were freely allowed to vote, provided they were already listed on the voters’ roll. According to the results, 77% of the expat vote went to the DA.

This decision was handed down by the Pretoria High Court in February 2009 after the Freedom Front Plus party brought the case to the bench on behalf of a South African teacher living in London. The Pretoria High Court referred the matter for confirmation to the Constitutional Court, which upheld the decision.

The IEC also made provision for voters with special needs, such as a braille voting sheet for the visually impaired.

Appreciation at high levels

In a statement made from Johannesburg’s Sunninghill Hospital, ANC president Jacob Zuma praised South Africans for their commitment to democracy.

“I am very happy that people came out to vote and I am glad that people understand what voting is all about,” Zuma said during a visit to a woman who was injured in a bus accident on her way to the party’s final rally the previous weekend. The ANC win means Zuma will succeed Kgalema Motlanthe as president of South Africa.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu observed that in the first years of South Africa’s democracy most people would have voted for the ANC, but the current situation was not as straightforward.

Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, felt that South African voters understood the issues at stake, and that she was delighted with the results so far. The Democratic Alliance is likely to entrench its position as official opposition once the final results are released.

IEC chair Brigalia Bam expressed her appreciation for the nationwide cooperation of voters. “We thank voters for their enthusiasm and patience as they waited to exercise their democratic right to vote,” she added.

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