South Africa’s voters have delivered a significant rebuke to the governing African National Congress, which got less than 50 percent of ballots cast in local government elections.
Widespread corruption, persistently high rates of unemployment, crippling power blackouts and ineffective delivery of government services were burning campaign issues.
In results announced Thursday night, the ANC won 46 percent of the vote, down from 54 percent in the last municipal elections five years ago.
As a result, the party will control fewer councils and have fewer mayors in big and small cities across the country.
It is the first time,e the party of Nelson Mandela has received less than half of the ballots cast in any election in the continent’s most industrialised nation.
The share of the ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has consistently declined at local polls, often seen as a prime opportunity for the electorate to lodge protest votes.
President Ramaphosa acknowledged that the party will have to form coalitions to govern key metropolitan areas.
“If we are to make this a new and better era, we as leaders must put aside our differences and work together in a spirit of partnership, of cooperation and collaboration and common purpose in the interest of the people of South Africa,” said Ramaphosa, announcing the results at the election centre in Pretoria.
Looking ahead to general elections in 2024, the results portend badly for the ANC.
The local polls also set the stage for the country’s evolution into a richer multiparty democracy, moving past the dream of a “rainbow nation” and into the reality of balancing myriad competing interests.
“For some time, we’ve been trying to implement democracy in South Africa, but we have not really succeeded up to now to have a truly competitive multiparty democracy,” said Sandile Swana, a political analyst.
Major cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria have had coalition governments since the last local polls five years ago.
Nationally, the ANC lost a majority in even more regions, including in eThekwini metro in former President Jacob Zuma’s stronghold province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Only two out of three potential voters registered. Of those, less than half actually cast ballots.