Wednesday's local government poll has seen the most peaceful campaign of all post-apartheid elections and looked set to draw a strong turnout, members of the Election Monitoring Network said on Monday.
"Despite a number of serious incidents, by and large this has been the most peaceful elections since the advent of democracy, with the least experience of political intolerance," the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, told a media briefing.
He singled out the killing of protester Andries Tatane in Ficksburg and incidences of violence in KwaZulu-Natal, where firearms were found at Nongoma, but said the overall level of pre-election conflict had declined.
Makgoba warned however that there was a potential for strife in the tightly contested metros of Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, and in municipalities like Midvaal in Gauteng, Buffalo City and Alfred Nzo in the Eastern Cape.
In the Free State, Botshabelo and Moqhaka, where the African National Congress (ANC) has been embarrassed by revelations that it built open toilets, also had a potential for conflict.
Idasa executive director Paul Graham agreed that overall "it has been a much more peaceful process," adding that this could be interpreted as a sign of maturing democracy.
"It seems that elections are being seen as the fundamental way to resolve conflicts."
Graham said voters appeared more committed to casting their ballots on Wednesday than in the last municipal elections in 2006, which had a turnout of 48%.
He believed this was due to greater competition between parties, with the Democratic Alliance's drive to capture more municipalities after polling 16% five years ago being the biggest contributing factor.
"It looks like people are more keen this time. There is more of a contest ...where there is a contest, people turn out... there is a heightened level of intent.
"The DA has a much higher profile and they have been campaigning in many places where they did not before," he said, adding that the ANC's campaign on the other hand was "much weaker" than in the 2009 national elections that brought President Jacob Zuma to power.
Election Monitoring Network chairman Siyabulela Gidi said the final push of the campaign and extensive media coverage appeared to have decreased initially marked apathy.
"They are now really getting into the hype."
Graham said it appeared that the election was marked by a feeling among voters that "they actually have a choice".
Both he and Makgoba predicted that service delivery protests would continue well into the future, after appearing to increase during the election campaign.
"Service delivery protests have grown in significance and intensity over the past two years. It is understandable that, as so many of the protests relate to failures by municipalities, that this local government election has provided them with renewed energy."
He appealed to community leaders to keep protests peaceful and to elected officials to take discontent seriously and to deal with what he termed a "quite massive" backlog in delivery of basic services.
Makgoba also urged politicians not to make "inappropriate" statements, criticising Zuma's controversial statements that the ANC would rule until the second coming and that the ancestors would be angry if the party lost the Eastern Cape.
"If you talk about 'ruling till Jesus comes', that is quite an incorrect theological statement."