Rioting erupts in S.Africa township ahead of vote

Rioting broke out in a South African township on the eve of a general election that the ruling ANC is expected to win despite growing disaffection over shoddy public services and corruption.

Twenty years after South Africans of all colours wowed the world by voting to end centuries of racist rule, they will turn out to 22,263 polling centres to elect a new set of lawmakers and in turn a president.

As in 1994 and each subsequent election, the African National Congress is expected to win hands-down on the back of a campaign that has leaned heavily on past glories and the outpouring of grief over the death of its former leader Nelson Mandela.

But with less than 12 hours to go before the poll, there were signs of the growing impatience that has emerged over South Africa's deep inequality and a spate of corruption scandals, particularly from the huge "born free" generation that never experienced the struggle to overcome apartheid.

In the township of Bekkersdal, south west of Johannesburg, police cars were pelted with stones and local media reported that some temporary polling stations had been burned down.

"We have received reports of disturbances in Bekkersdal where residents have blockaded roads with burning tyres," said police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini.

"At this stage we don't know the cause of the violence," he said adding that no injuries had been reported.

Bekkersdal has been hit by intermittent unrest since last year, as residents protest a lack of public services in the area. They have vowed to boycott Wednesday's vote.

It is one of several hotspots where the army has been deployed to keep order ahead of the election.

Violence intensified early this year, resulting in the destruction of public buildings, with local officials accused of corruption and nepotism.

The national broadcaster SABC reported on Wednesday that one polling station in the area was also burnt down, while others reported the figure could be as high as three.

- To the polls -

The unrest is not expected to have a decisive impact on the final result, as up to 25 million South Africans head to the polls.

The ANC is still expected to win more than 60 percent of the popular vote, returning President Jacob Zuma for a second five-year term.

But it is also likely to see its share of the vote decline for a second consecutive election.

The opposition Democratic Alliance is expected to do well in urban areas and push its share of the vote above 20 percent, although it has struggled to appeal to mainstream black voters who still remember the days when it was a party for whites during the apartheid era.

The exact outcome will depend on turnout and on how the roughly one million South Africans born after the end of apartheid will cast their ballots.

Polls show many are disaffected with the country's current crop of leaders and are willing to consider the Democratic Alliance or left-wing firebrand Julius Malema.

Voting will begin at 7:00 am local time (0500 GMT) on Wednesday and end roughly 14 hours later.

Zuma, who has become a lightning rod for anger over poor governance and corruption, will vote at his Nkandla homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

Nkandla itself has featured prominently in the election campaign after it emerged that Zuma's administration spent $23 million (17 million euro) of taxpayers cash on "upgrades" at the residence, including a swimming pool, amphitheatre, helipad, private clinic and cattle enclosure.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille will vote in Cape Town.

While some early tallies may trickle in on Wednesday evening, the full result is not likely to be known before Friday.