South African President Jacob Zuma pledged to intensify efforts to reduce poverty and unemployment and boost economic growth after his party won elections by the lowest margin since it took power 20 years ago.
“We will use our majority to implement policies and programs that further improve the quality of life for all, especially the poor,” Zuma, 72, said at the official release of the results in Pretoria yesterday. “There is a lot that we have to do and we are determined to do more.”
The 102-year-old African National Congress that led the fight against white minority rule has seen its support slide to 62.2 percent in the May 7 election from 65.9 percent five years ago and a post-apartheid peak of 69.7 percent in 2004. The party’s biggest losses came in Gauteng, the richest province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, where backing tumbled by more than 10 percentage points.
“When you lose seats as a political party, you get worried,” ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg today.
Zuma said the victory allows the ANC-led government to implement the National Development Plan, an economic blueprint that seeks to boost growth to 5.4 percent a year in order to cut the jobless rate to 14 percent by 2020 from 25 percent. The government estimates economic expansion of 2.7 percent this year.
“This mandate gives us the green light to implement the National Development Plan and to promote inclusive economic growth and job creation,” Zuma said.
The rand, the currency of Africa’s second-biggest economy, strengthened 1.1 percent on May 8, the first trading day after the general elections, ending the week with a 1.3 percent gain. Yields on the government bond maturing December 2026 fell 21 basis point on the same day.
The currency gained as results trickled in, ANC election head and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba told reporters today.
“The investors know that the victory of the ANC means the continuity of the NDP, the infrastructure rollout, the implementation of the bold and ambitious industrialization program,” Gigaba said.
Helen Zille’s Democratic Alliance made inroads among black urban middle-class voters to grow its support to 22.2 percent, from 16.7 percent in 2009. The Economic Freedom Fighters, formed last year by former ANC youth wing leader Julius Malema, polled 6.4 percent, as its call to nationalize mines and land found resonance in a nation with one of the world’s highest levels of income inequality.
“The ANC are in a very difficult position because they are losing support to the centrist right and populist left,” Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy, said by phone yesterday. “It’s going to be difficult to keep both sides happy. They are going to have to up their game. The provincial result in Gauteng is clearly of great concern of the ANC.”
The ANC won 249 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly, 15 less than in 2004. The DA gained 22 seats, giving it 89, and the EFF secured 25. Ten other smaller parties also won seats.
The ANC enjoys widespread support among the black majority, who account for 79 percent of the nation’s 53 million people, for the role it played in ending apartheid and boosting access to welfare grants, water and housing. That loyalty is now moderating, as more young people who never lived under apartheid become voters and disillusionment with rising joblessness and corruption mounts.
“This is not the end, it’s the beginning,” Malema told reporters in Pretoria yesterday. “We are a government-in-waiting. If there is any loser here, it is the ANC. The reality is they have lost Gauteng.”
The ANC remained in charge of eight of the nine provinces, while the DA strengthened its control over the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town.
“The ANC must be greatly relieved that it managed a substantive and commanding victory,” Silke said. “While it must be celebrating that its support never dropped below 60 percent, there are some worrying trends for the party.”
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