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JOHANNESBURG – Phakisho Mojaplo, 20, belongs to a new generation of South Africans who never experienced firsthand the harsh system of white minority rule that ended in 1994, and will vote in national elections for the first time on Wednesday. And yet, she is deeply dissatisfied with what she describes as a growing culture of elitism and corruption in her country despite its new freedoms and other advances during her lifetime.
Chief among Mojaplo's grievances is her sense that the ruling African National Congress, which is expected to win re-election with a possibly reduced majority, has betrayed the commitments to clean governance and basic services for all citizens that it championed when it took power in South Africa's first all-race elections two decades ago. But the anti-establishment sentiment of many young South Africans, grouped under the post-apartheid label of "born frees," is unlikely to cut deeply into ruling party support at the polls because a large number have not registered to vote.
"I'm angry at the corruption that ANC has been doing, and what makes me angry is that the party isn't doing anything about it," said Majaplo, who is studying public relations at the University of Johannesburg and worries that she won't find work when she graduates.
Figures in the ruling party have been linked to corruption scandals over the years, tarnishing the reputation of a movement that was led by anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who died in December at the age of 95, and is steeped in the credentials of the struggle against racist rule. President Jacob Zuma has become enmeshed in a scandal surrounding more than $20 million in state spending on his private home, though he denies any wrongdoing and has promised to work against graft.
"We will restrict public servants from doing business with government, and we will hold public officials liable for losses incurred as a result of corrupt actions," Zuma said.
Some 22,000 voting stations will open at schools, places of worship, tribal authority sites and hospitals, and several dozen vehicles serving as mobile voting stations will go to remote areas to meet people. About 25 million South Africans, roughly half the population, have registered to vote in the parliamentary elections which will also determine the president.
About 650,000 South Africans aged between 18 and 19 years old — about one-third of those who are eligible to vote — have actually registered, according to the country's election commission.
In the last election in 2009, the African National Congress fell just short of a two-thirds majority. Its main rivals this year are the Democratic Alliance, a centrist party led by former journalist and anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, headed by Julius Malema, a former head of the ruling party's youth league who wants to redistribute wealth to the poor.
Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister and onetime ruling party stalwart, is among those who have become politically disenchanted and is urging people to spoil their ballots or vote for an opposition party. In a statement, the African National Congress urged voters not to stay away, citing the sacrifices of those who fought for democracy over decades of racial conflict.
"For us, the right to vote is a coveted prize that was earned under difficult and painful circumstances," the party said. It plans to deploy 75,000 party members to monitor and observe the elections in a show of force by a party that controls eight out of South Africa's nine provinces.
Matthew Mundell, a 20-year-old photography student, believes the leaders of the ruling party are failing even though he is not "totally" against the African National Congress. He acknowledged improvements since 1994, including the fact that he has studied in multi-racial schools.
"Half of my friends are different colors, so it's really cool," Mundell said. "I enjoy their characters and I've got a chance to experience different cultures, different households, and that's really been interesting, that's really broadened my mind."
Mojaplo, the student at the University of Johannesburg, lives in the poor township of Alexandra, whose location near the wealthy area of Sandton in Johannesburg is a stark example of the extremes of destitution and privilege in South Africa that have dampened the expectations of many. On the ruling party's watch, millions of people have gained access to water and other basic services, but protests routinely erupt in areas where residents say the government has ignored their needs.
"They haven't delivered houses," Mojaplo complained. "We're still here in Alex in squatter camps. It's cramped, sharing toilets, and there are some families who still don't have electricity."