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South African Opposition Gains in Vote; ANC Keeps Its Cities

South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance increased its share of the vote in yesterday’s municipal elections, while failing to win control of any more major cities, partial results show.

With about 11.9 million ballots counted, the African National Congress had 62.8 percent of the vote, while the DA had 24.2 percent, said the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria, the capital. That compares with 65.9 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively, in the national election in 2009.

“The ANC should be worried,” Prince Mashele, executive-director for the Johannesburg-based Centre for Politics and Research, said in an interview. “We now know the DA is a permanent feature of the political landscape. This boost will set them up for the long-term.”

The ANC has won every election since 1994 with more than 60 percent of the vote as many black supporters remain loyal to the party because of its decades-long fight against apartheid. Now, rising unemployment in a country where one in four people are without jobs, and a lack of basic services such as sanitation in many townships, is beginning to weaken that support.

The DA is unlikely to win control of any major city outside Cape Town, which it already governs, said Ryan Coetzee, the party’s elections strategist.

The ANC kept control in Pretoria, Port Elizabeth and Ekurhuleni council, with runs towns to the east of Johannesburg, and led in Johannesburg and Durban. The DA led with a majority in Cape Town after running it in a coalition since 2006.

‘Ready for Change’

Winning more than 20 percent of the vote “would mean a big breakthrough,” DA party leader Helen Zille said in an interview in Pretoria. “It’s great to grow at that rate. It shows that voters are ready for change.”

The ANC could lose a few percentage points nationwide, Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Pretoria today.

“Any loss is a wake-up call for a political party,” he said. “But we must remember that our traditional voter base doesn’t always come in great numbers for the local elections.”

Preliminary results showed the ANC leading in Johannesburg with 56.1 percent of the vote, while the DA had 37.4 percent. In Cape Town the DA had 64.9 percent support to the ANC’s 29.7 percent.

ANC Reaction

With all ballots counted in Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, which runs the city of Port Elizabeth, the ANC retained control with 52.1 percent, compared with 40.2 percent for the DA.

The country has 278 municipalities and districts, down from 283 in the last local government elections in 2006, following the reconfiguration of voting districts. The DA has already secured a majority in 17 municipalities, up from the seven it won outright in 2006.

A decline in the ANC’s support may “sharpen leadership battles” within Africa’s oldest political movement, Ebrahim Fakir, an analyst with the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa, said in an interview in Pretoria. “They could also become more populist as they seek to attract discontented voters.”

The ANC Youth League has been campaigning for the nationalization of South Africa’s mines, banks and land, arguing that the country’s assets should benefit the population more directly.

Youth League

A May 16 survey by polling company Ipsos Markinor showed the ANC’s support may drop to 59 percent from 66 percent in 2009. The poll of 2,050 likely voters gave the DA 19 percent.

President Jacob Zuma has highlighted the ANC’s role in bringing about democracy and its achievements since taking power, including building 2.7 million homes for the poor and giving 6 million households access to clean water.

Africa’s biggest economy shed 14,000 jobs in the first quarter, pushing the unemployment rate to 25 percent, the highest of 61 countries tracked by Bloomberg. South Africa had a record 111 protests against a lack of basic services such as water and housing last year, according to Johannesburg-based Municipal IQ, an independent local government research group.

“I voted for change,” Lebogang Mohlue, 18, a student, said yesterday after casting her ballot for the DA in Johannesburg’s Brixton area. “I want to have a job when I finish my studies so I voted for a party that can help create jobs.”

The rand has declined 3.6 percent against the dollar this year, while the benchmark FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index has fallen 0.6 percent.

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