South Africa's top three political parties sprinted towards the finish line before Wednesday's poll, with the leaders of each party giving impassioned pleas to a deeply divided, conflicted electorate of 26.7 million people.
The ruling ANC, the established Democratic Alliance (DA) and upstart Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) parties held their final rallies over the weekend in Johannesburg, the nation's economic hub.
The long-ruling ANC leads the 48 parties contesting this year. The party has held power since 1994, but has weathered harsh criticism this year for a slew of government corruption scandals. The head of the ANC, President Cyril Ramaphosa, acknowledged that during the party's final rally.
"We admit that we have made mistakes and we put ourselves before our people and say, Yes, we have made mistakes, but it is only those who are doing nothing who don't make mistakes,'" he said to a full stadium in Johannesburg.
But analysts, like Ivor Sarakinsky of the University of the Witwatersrand, say the top parties' biggest enemies may be themselves. "A lot of voters are conflicted," he told VOA.
"I don't think there's a clear choice because the main parties, and even some of the smaller parties, are bringing enormous baggage into this election in terms of their own internal dynamics," he added. "We focus on the ANC's baggage and dynamics, but all the parties have their own baggage. The DA and the controversies in terms of internal leadership, the EFF in terms of internal leadership and questions about financial flows into the party. There's controversy around all of them."
He says the drama around corruption and internal leadership struggles — notably within the ANC — have distracted from real issues like the economy and the fact that the nation remains deeply divided, socially and economically, a quarter-century after the end of apartheid.
"It's about identifying a party that has a manifesto that meets most of your needs, interests and concerns in terms of where the country is going in the future," he said. "And that's a tough ask, because the manifestos don't deal with what many people know are the real issues, and the politics and the emotion and the symbolism and the political tactics has distorted how many parties are marketing themselves. So it's a tough choice for voters at the moment, in this election."
Those conflicted or apathetic voters are exactly what the upstart, far-left EFF party is trying to mop up. Party leader Julius Malema, a one-time ANC stalwart, urged voters not to stay on the sidelines.
"Comrades, I want to say to all who are saying they are not going to vote because they don't see how the vote helps them, you are committing a suicide, because by not voting you are giving the ANC power," he told supporters at his party's final rally.
The leading opposition DA is also hot on the ANC's tail, with leader Mmusi Maimane urging voters not to vote based on appearances or personalities.
"I need your vote!" he told supporters. "My fellow South Africans, this is not a popularity contest. This is not about who looks like what, and whether you like this person. I'm not asking you to marry me."