South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has taken a clear lead in the country’s first ‘born free’ elections, where a new generation of South Africans who never experienced firsthand apartheid voted for the first time.
Results released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) showed the ANC with 62.99 percent of the vote after 86.6 percent of the ballots were counted, according to Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa, who is reporting from Durban.
Its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, held 21.84 percent, in line with predictions the party would improve on the 16.7 percent it won five years ago as it gradually sheds its image as the political home of privileged whites.
The leftwing Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC, was in third place with 5.51 percent.
According to election officials, voter turnout was 73 percent.
While voting in the fifth election since the end of apartheid ran smoothly, an IEC spokesman said it was investigating the killing of what the ANC said was one of its members.
The ANC, which led the fight against apartheid, has dominated politics since Nelson Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
Pre-election polls had put ANC support near 65 percent, a little below the 65.9 percent it won in the 2009 election that brought Zuma to power.
Jabulani Radebe, a staunch ANC member who has lived in both Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, told Al Jazeera that the results were not surprising.
“I am not surprised because even though people have criticised President Zuma, we as members separate the leaders from the party. It means that even if Zuma is gone tomorrow, it shows the ANC is still strong and will go on,” he said.
“It seems the opposition spent a lot of time attacking the ANC rather than offering alternatives and maybe this benefitted us,” Radebe added.
The country’s economy has struggled to recover from a 2009 recession – its first since 1994 – and the ANC’s efforts to stimulate growth and tackle 25 percent unemployment have been hampered by powerful unions.
South Africa’s top anti-corruption agency accused Zuma this year of “benefiting unduly” from a $23m state-funded security upgrade to his private home at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal that included a swimming pool and chicken run.
Zuma has denied any wrongdoing and defended the upgrades as necessary for the protection of a head of state. He confidently announced on Monday the Nkandla controversy was “not an issue with the voters”.
|Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa reports from Pretoria|
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lubna Nadvi, political scientist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the top three winners of the 2014 elections are the ANC, DA and EFF.
“For sure the EFF has been the dark horse of the election. Other parties like the Minority Front have lost a lot of support, from a local and national perspective.”
Nadvi also talked about the performance of COPE and AGANG-SA, saying “internal issues” hurt COPE, while Agang-SA’s shortlived marriage with DA damaged its reputation.
“Mamphele Ramphele’s attempt to the the face of both parties, backfired and the party paid a huge price.”