South Africa’s ruling African National Congress decisively won a fifth straight national election, retaining much of its support even as a corruption scandal embroils President Jacob Zuma.
With ballots from 99 percent of the 22,263 polling stations counted, the ANC won 62.2 percent of the vote, followed by the Democratic Alliance with 22.2 percent, provisional figures from the Independent Electoral Commission showed. The results are mainly in line with an opinion poll released by Ipsos on May 2.
While the ANC’s support fell from 65.9 percent five years ago and its majority narrowed in the nation’s richest province, Gauteng, the margin of victory strengthens Zuma’s position in the party as he fights allegations by the nation’s graft ombudsman of unduly benefiting from a state-funded upgrade of his private residence. It also gives the ruling party the leeway to ignore calls by other parties for more radical change, including the nationalization of mines.
“While reduced, the ANC’s victory is large enough to protect Zuma from any immediate threats to his ANC leadership and will probably silence party factions who argue the scandal-plagued traditionalist is a major liability,” Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York-based risk advisory company, said in an e-mailed note to clients today.
Analysts, including those from Citigroup Inc., had said a drop in support for the ANC below 60 percent may push the party to abandon policies seeking investment.
The rand fell for the first time in four days, dropping 0.4 percent to 10.3754 per dollar as of 4:18 p.m. in Johannesburg, and paring its gains this week to 1 percent.
Twenty years after taking power under Nelson Mandela, the ANC still enjoys strong backing among the black majority for ridding the country of white-minority rule. The party consolidated its support by providing welfare grants to almost one in three citizens and increasing access to housing, water and electricity.
The ANC lost support this year to the DA, which increased its share of the vote from 16.7 percent five years ago, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, formed in October by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema, that won 6.3 percent.
The EFF’s pledge to nationalize mines and banks and expropriate farms to redistribute wealth to poor, black South Africans resonated with young voters in a country where a quarter of the working population don’t have jobs. The party also won backing from miners in the nation’s platinum belt who have been on strike for more than three months for higher wages.
Malusi Gigaba, public enterprises minister and a senior ANC member, said yesterday the party wants “radical economic transformation” in the next 20 years to increase the participation of black South Africans in the economy. Government policy will focus on building infrastructure, developing industries and buying more goods and services locally to help build a class of black industrialists, he said.
The ANC’s biggest loss of support came in Gauteng, where the government imposed electronic road tolls around Johannesburg and township residents protested over a lack of jobs and housing. With ballots in less than 5 percent of the voting districts in Gauteng still to be counted, the ANC’s support stood at 53.2 percent, down from 64 percent in 2009.
The party retained control of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces with almost 80 percent support, and was on track to remain in charge of six of seven other provinces. The DA strengthened its control over the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town, the second-largest city. The party, led by former journalist Helen Zille, has 59 percent of the votes counted in the province.
The ANC went to the polls having to defend Zuma after the government spent 215 million rand ($21 million) to improve security at his home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province. The upgrades included the building of a swimming pool and amphitheater. Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.
Disillusionment with a 25 percent jobless rate and a lack of housing, decent sanitation and other services in poor black townships led to 214 protests in the first quarter, according to data from the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies.
The ANC has pledged to create 6 million “job opportunities,” build 1 million homes for the poor, improve education and health care and give black citizens a bigger stake in the economy over the next five years.
“Though there is some disenchantment with Zuma, many people forget that there is a lot of brand loyalty to the ANC,” Somadoda Fikeni, a professor at the University of South Africa, said in an interview in Pretoria yesterday.