Accounting clerk Events Ranenyine rose in his tiny room on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg Wednesday, washed in a basin of water he had collected the day before from the faucet down a rutted dirt street, and then picked his way past piles of trash to his polling station — a tent set up in the yard of a tin-shack church.
Wednesday's local government vote comes less than 20 years after South Africa's first multiracial election, and could start a shift toward a more robust multiparty system.
The dominant African National Congress party, which has controlled the country since 1994, faces its strongest challenge yet amid accusations that it has not done enough to alleviate poverty and provide services.
But Ranenyine, 29, who said he voted for the ANC, said he believes the party that defeated apartheid deserves one more chance.
Ranenyine said he waited two hours to vote in the last local elections, in 2006. Wednesday, he waited only 40 minutes. He said many of his neighbors had chosen to stay home because they did not want to vote for the ANC, but also did not have faith in other parties.
"They're tired," he said of his neighbors. "They're so very tired of being lied to."
The ANC is expected to win in the overwhelming majority of the country's 278 municipalities. But the party is accused of being riddled with corruption and failing to keep up with the demand for decent housing, schools, running water and other basics.
That could be an opportunity for the main opposition Democratic Alliance, known as the DA, which has its roots in a white liberal anti-apartheid party, and has been hobbled by an inability to attract black voters. The DA is seen as pro-business, and boasts it has run an efficient administration in Cape Town, South Africa's main tourist city.
Already, a chastened ANC has made changes, giving local communities more of a say in picking candidates. President Jacob Zuma also has promised that his national government will ensure that local governments perform.
Ranenyine's Zandspruit is a neighborhood crammed with tiny shacks. Gladys Tshombo, 70, lives alone in one, with no electricity or running water. She said rats are a problem, and that she's seen no improvements since moving here soon after the 1994 election that ended apartheid.
She voted for the ANC because she idolized its leader, Nelson Mandela, in 1994. She voted for the party again Wednesday.
"I love ANC," she said. "As time goes on, things might improve."
Zandspruit has seen violent protests in recent months by people who say the ANC has been slow to meet their needs. On Wednesday, Ranenyine said the protests were as important as voting in getting politicians' attention.
"We have to fight, so they come to hear our struggle," he said. "We need more change."
A pre-election survey by South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council found 45 percent of South African voters are dissatisfied with their local councils' performances. But it also found that 37 percent would give the party they voted for last time another chance. Only 25 percent said they would change parties — and 19 percent said they would stay home.
In some ways, the ANC is a victim of its own success. Some 18 percent of South Africans live in state-built or -subsidized housing under a program the ANC started in 1994. Since 1994, access to electricity has increased from 36 percent of households to 84 percent, and the government has brought clean water to 6 million households.
For some South Africans, seeing their neighbors lifted out of poverty has brought hope they will be next. For others, it has sparked resentment and impatience.
Johannesburg and other metropolitan areas have seen economic growth, drawing South Africans from the underdeveloped countryside and people from elsewhere in Africa. Ivan Turok of the Human Sciences Research Council said that has led to a boom in shack settlements in the cities, creating frustrations and explaining "why protest action is concentrated on the margins of the big cities."
The ANC has been praised for spurring economic growth, but the benefits have not trickled to the poorest of the poor. A recent U.N. study found three South African cities, including Johannesburg, to have some of the world's widest rich-poor gaps. That was evident in Zandspruit, which sits in sight of mansions clustered around a nearby golf course.
Some 23 million voters were registered at 20,000 polling stations across this country of 50 million people for Wednesday's vote, which election officials said saw relatively few glitches. After 12 hours of voting Wednesday, election officials said counting began immediately, though those in line when polls closed at 7 p.m. (1700GMT) were allowed to vote. Results were to be posted as they were tallied, with a clear indication of national trends expected by the weekend.
Political analyst Phillip de Wet said parties will be watching the results closely to learn lessons for policymaking and for the next national elections, in 2014.
"What all of us will be watching is the ANC and the DA numbers," he said.
De Wet said the focus on basic services and local issues was a sign of maturity 17 years after apartheid ended with the first multiracial national vote. But past divisions — and victories — were prominent in the campaign, with ANC supporters pointing to the DA's white leaders and painting theirs as the party of anti-apartheid heroes.
Zuma met on the eve of the vote with Mandela, who at 92 is retired from public life but still an iconic figure. Zuma told reporters later that Mandela — who voted early as the elderly are able to do in South Africa — voted ANC and saw the local elections as important.
Wednesday, Ranenyine said he hoped the progress that had come to others under ANC governments would soon come to Zandspruit.
But he said that if he doesn't see change by the next local elections, "I'll vote for DA."
AP's Ed Brown contributed to this report.