South Africa’s ruling ANC party appeared to be delivering its worst election performance ever since the end of apartheid, with support expected to fall below 50% in local government polls.
With more than half of the polling stations reporting after Monday’s fiercely controversial election, the African National Congress stood at just under 46 percent of the vote, according to election commission figures.
The local elections had largely been seen as a referendum on the ANC, tainted by corruption and subjected to a setback over poor governance of an ailing economy marked by chronically high unemployment, and on its uninterrupted 27 years of responsibility for Africa’s most industrialized nation.
The ANC has blamed the poor show for the coronavirus pandemic, apathy and power outages imposed on the country’s energy supply Eskom.
“I do not think we could have done better,” ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte told AFP.
“We think some of our own voters stayed away from the polls, but … we do not see this as a great tragedy, we see this as an opportunity to improve.”
The result raises the possibility that Nelson Mandela’s legacy party will be forced to rule the country in a coalition if they were to be repeated in the next national election in 2024.
But the opposition remains fragmented, with the ANC’s biggest rival, the Democratic Alliance (DA), number two at 23% in Tuesday’s count and the Marxist EFF, led by Julius Malema, number three at 10%.
Poor service has haunted South Africa for years, while senior ANC party members, including former President Jacob Zuma, face corruption investigations. Meanwhile, unemployment has hit 34.4%.
Frustrations with the ANC government unfolded in July when extensive riots and looting broke out after Zuma’s imprisonment for contempt after refusing to testify in a corruption investigation.
The riots claimed at least 354 lives.
Until 2016, the ANC had won more than 60% in every election since the country’s first multi-racial vote in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president.
The party’s support fell from 62% in the local elections in 2011 to 54% during the vote in 2016.
Ralph Mathekga, analyst and author of books on ANC politics, said the election could be “a prediction of what threatens the next parliamentary election.
“If the ANC falls below 50% … South Africa will no longer be led by a hegemonic party,” he said, adding that the result could threaten President Cyril Ramaphosa’s position as president when the ANC elects its leader next year.
But no other single party yet appears to be ready to compete with the ANC.
DA has fought to lose its image as a party with white privileges in a country that is nine tenths non-white, while the EFF’s radical rhetoric scares many voters.
In addition to avoiding the loss of its overall majority, the ANC hopes to win back metropolitan areas, as it lost to opposition-led coalitions in the 2016 poll, including the commercial center Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
At 1815 GMT, results for Johannesburg from 29% of polling stations gave the ANC 37%, against 22% for the DA. DA, meanwhile, was a leader in Tshwane, which includes Pretoria, with 39% of the vote against the ANC’s 29% on results from 19% of the stations.
ActionSA, the most popular newcomer party whose leader, Herman Mashaba, has been criticized for loud anti-immigrant remarks, was at 1.6% nationwide, but with 17% in Johannesburg, placing it in third place there.