South African opposition takes election lead in major cities


Schoolgirls walk past election posters for the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in Port Elizabeth, South ...
Schoolgirls walk past election posters for the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, ahead of local government elections, July 29, 2016. Picture taken July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Staff/Joe Brock

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance led in three major cities on Thursday as votes were counted in local elections, threatening to deal the biggest electoral blow to the African National Congress since the end of apartheid two decades ago.

The ANC – which ended white-minority rule when it swept to power in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 – held a big lead in the national count.

But it was behind the opposition DA in the municipalities that include the cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, areas which it has held virtually unopposed since the end of apartheid.

A significant loss of support for the ruling party in these areas could reshape the political playing field ahead of the 2019 national election, and may also embolden President Jacob Zuma’s rivals within the ANC to challenge him.

The vote comes against the backdrop of increasing anger among voters at high unemployment and a lack of basic services as Africa’s most industrialised country teeters on the edge of a recession, as well as a string of corruption scandals surrounding Zuma.

Many ANC supporters are switching allegiances to the DA, bolstering its attempts to attract black voters and shake off its image of a party that chiefly serves the interests of the minority white community.

With about half of the vote counted in the national count, the ANC held a 52 percent lead, against 31 percent for the DA and 9 percent for the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters. Final results are expected by Friday.

The DA, which last year elected its first black leader Mmusi Maimane, was leading the ANC in Tshwane municipality, home to the capital Pretoria, in Johannesburg and in Nelson Mandela Bay, the area named after the anti-apartheid hero who led the ANC to power and which includes the city of Port Elizabeth.

The DA is expected to maintain its control of Cape Town, the only big city currently not run by the ANC, where it had a large lead over the ruling party.

The DA said it was “buoyant” about the growth in support across the country.

“It looks like we are going to be in government in a whole lot of places where we weren’t in government before,” said James Selfe, a senior DA executive.

The ANC said it expected to retain Tshwane municipality but was not so sure about Johannesburg or Nelson Mandela Bay.

FRUSTRATION

The DA had 45 percent of the votes in Tshwane municipality against the ANC’s 40 percent although only 40 percent of the votes had been counted.

In Johannesburg, the opposition party led with 44 percent to 40 percent for the ANC, with 23 percent of the votes tallied, while in Nelson Mandela Bay it led with 55 percent versus 35 percent, with 59 of the votes in.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that we will be the majority party here,” said the DA’s Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral candidate, Athol Trollip. “It is not yet clear if we will win an outright majority.”

Opponents say defeat in a region named after the ANC’s liberation hero would be a major embarrassment for the ruling party.

Analysts said it was still too early to call the vote.

“The projections that I give most credence to is that the DA will be the biggest single party in Nelson Mandela Bay but won’t get 50 percent,” Daryl Glaser, lecturer in political studies department at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg said.

“In the case of Tshwane and Johannesburg the ANC will be the biggest party, but very significantly, it will fall below 50 percent, so we are looking at a major setback for the ANC and we are into an era of coalition politics.”

The DA had 69 percent of the vote in Cape Town against the ANC’s 22 percent, with 60 percent of the votes in.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is led by firebrand Julius Malema, Zuma’s one-time protege and former ANC youth leader is participating in only its second election and was running a distant third in the national count.

It is, however, winning some support from voters frustrated about inequality in country where black people make up 80 percent of the 54 million population, yet most of the economy in terms of ownership of land and companies remains in the hands of white people, who account for about 8 percent of the population.

Many South Africans who queued up to vote across the country said they were worried about Zuma’s performance and the state of the economy, where one in four in the labour force is unemployed.

Zuma survived an impeachment vote in April after the Constitutional Court said he breached the law by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent on renovating his private home.

In December, he rattled investors after changing his finance minister twice in a week, sending the rand plummeting. The currency has since recovered.

Zuma has said he would repay some of the funds spent on his home and rejected criticism of his conduct.

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