South African Opposition Party Gains Ground Against ANC in Vote

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress lost support in May 18 municipal elections as the main opposition won over disgruntled ANC voters at the expense of smaller rivals.

The ANC’s share of the vote dropped to 62 percent from 65.9 percent in the national election in 2009, according to results published by the Independent Electoral Commission in Pretoria yesterday. The Democratic Alliance won 23.9 percent of the vote, up from 16.6 percent.

The DA has consolidated its position as the only challenger to the 17-year dominance of the ANC, taking advantage of voters’ concerns that the ruling party isn’t doing enough to create jobs and provide water, sanitation and other services to many of the country’s 2,700 shanty towns. South Africa’s jobless rate of 25 percent is the highest of 61 countries tracked by Bloomberg.

“The DA’s strategy is, over time, winning people over,” said Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura International Plc in London. “It is slowly chipping away at the ANC’s control.”

None of the other 119 parties that contested the poll received more than 4 percent of the vote. The Congress of the People, formed in 2008 by a group of ANC dissidents, saw its share plummet to 2.2 percent from 7.4 percent in 2009, while support for the Inkatha Freedom Party slid to 3.6 percent from 4.6 percent.

Turnout 57.6%

The results showed the ANC won 62.9 percent of the proportional representation vote, while the DA won 24 percent. Of the 278 municipalities, the ANC won outright control of 198, the DA 18 and Inkatha Freedom Party 5, the commission said.

Voter turnout was 57.6 percent, compared to the commission’s expectations of 40 percent.

“The people identified service delivery as an issue,” President Jacob Zuma said in a speech in Pretoria after the results were published. “It came down to bread and butter issues.” The “South African people, especially the poor and the workers, must be the real winners of the 2011 local government elections. There must be visible change in their living conditions.”

The DA, traditionally backed by white and mixed-race voters, grew its support in all six main cities, though failed to win control of any of them, except Cape Town, which it has governed since 2006 in a coalition with the Independent Democrats.

DA Retains Cape Town

The Independent Democrats, which won 10.8 percent in Cape Town in 2006, agreed to merge with the DA before this year’s election.

“We are succeeding beyond our own expectations,” DA leader Helen Zille, 60, told reporters in Pretoria yesterday. “This election creates a strong platform for growth in 2014,” when the country next holds a national election.

The ANC’s share of the vote dropped in each of the country’s nine provinces, except in Zuma’s home, KwaZulu-Natal. While the ANC kept control of five of the six biggest cities, its share of the vote in Port Elizabeth dropped by 15 percentage points to 52 percent, and slid in Johannesburg to 59 percent from 62 percent.

“The ANC has now experienced two successive elections, 2009 and this week’s, in which they have slipped in terms of their support,” said Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the Johannesburg-based University of Witwatersrand. “There is a slight narrowing of the gap between what is emerging as the two dominant parties.”

‘Scored a Victory’

The ANC swept to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994, and has won every election since then with more than 60 percent of the vote, drawing support from the black majority because of the leading role it played in ending all-white rule.

The election “has once again demonstrated the power of the ANC,” Zuma, 69, told thousands of singing and cheering supporters who celebrated the party’s victory outside its headquarters in downtown Johannesburg on May 20. “We have scored a victory that has been forecast by others as a loss. They were saying the ANC is not going to make it.”

The ruling party plans to speed up delivery of services to address demands from angry township residents, Jeff Radebe, the ANC’s head of policy, said in an interview in Pretoria on May 20. 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.

“The ANC has received a resounding endorsement from our people,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s biggest labor federation of 2 million workers. “That endorsement is not unconditional. Lots of concerns have been expressed.”

The rand has gained 0.6 percent against the dollar since the elections were held . The benchmark FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index has slid 0.2 percent in the same period.

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