FT — South African president Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress received less than half of the national vote for the first time in the country’s post-apartheid democracy.
With almost all votes counted in Monday’s local elections by Thursday morning, the party that has governed Africa’s most industrialised nation since apartheid ended in 1994 had about 46 per cent of votes.
The party registered its worst ever electoral performance against a backdrop of economic stagnation and record joblessness, and in the aftermath of civil unrest that rocked the country’s heartlands.
The party lost outright control of Johannesburg, where it had about a third of the vote with almost all ballots counted, and will maintain control of only two of the country’s eight big cities. Less than half of 26m registered voters are estimated to have cast ballots.
“This has been amongst the most difficult elections we have contested. The turnout in particular has been disappointing . . . it is, in the main, an unambiguous signal to the ANC from the electorate,” Jessie Duarte, the ANC deputy secretary-general, said in a party statement on Wednesday.
“The low voter turnout, especially in traditional ANC strongholds, communicates a clear message — the people are disappointed in the ANC with the slow progress in fixing local government, in ensuring quality and consistent basic services, [and] tackling corruption and greed,” Duarte said.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was on course to win just over a fifth of the vote nationally, as parties on Wednesday prepared to negotiate an unprecedented number of coalitions to run South Africa’s towns and cities. The Economic Freedom Fighters, the third biggest party, polled about 10 per cent nationally. The rest of the vote went to smaller parties and independent candidates.
Duarte said the ANC was still “the leading party” at a national level, but conceded that the movement would have to negotiate more coalitions than ever before to stay in power in towns across South Africa. “The ANC will consider an approach with like-minded parties” and should be given the first opportunity to form local coalitions, she said.
Support for the ANC had previously plumbed a post-apartheid low of 54 per cent in the previous local elections in 2016, at the height of corruption and looting of the state under Jacob Zuma, the former president who was ousted by the party two years later when Ramaphosa won the ANC’s leadership.
ANC fortunes revived in the 2019 general elections as Ramaphosa pledged to combat rampant corruption and tackle the rot in state institutions.
But he has struggled to overcome infighting in the party. This exploded into the country’s worst post-apartheid unrest in July after Zuma was jailed for defying a court order to attend a judicial inquiry.
The grassroots collapse of services such as water and power in ANC-run municipalities lies behind voter frustration with Ramaphosa. The lead-up to the vote was also marked by the Eskom power monopoly’s imposition of rolling blackouts, which resumed on Tuesday.
The DA’s vote was below its 2016 levels as recent turmoil in the party led breakaways to run against it in key cities this year. But the DA made inroads into ANC strongholds and won its first ever municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, long a stronghold for Zuma and far from the DA’s own power base in the Western Cape.