Photographer: Mujahid Safodia/AFP via Getty Images

ANC Faces Sternest Test as South Africa Starts Local Vote Count

  • Opinion polls show coalitions may run key cities after vote
  • Electoral commission says voting took place peacefully

Ballot counting got under way as voting ended Wednesday in South Africa’s municipal elections, with the ruling party at risk of its poorest showing since the end of apartheid.

The African National Congress may win just 54 percent of the overall vote, slipping below 60 percent for the first time since it swept to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994, and lose its majority in the capital, Pretoria, Johannesburg, the economic hub, and the southern city of Port Elizabeth, according to an opinion poll by research company Ipsos released on Tuesday. With no party expected to pass the 50 percent mark in all three centers, Africa’s most-industrialized country may need coalitions to run key municipalities in its richest province, Gauteng.

“For some time now, this election has looked and felt like a watershed moment which will be looked back on as the beginning of the end of the ANC,” Nicholas Spiro, a partner at London-based Lauressa Advisory Ltd., which advises asset managers, said by e-mail. “While the party is still a formidable political machine, the inescapable feeling is that the ANC is in terminal decline.”

Anti-Apartheid Credentials

Still widely credited for ending white-minority rule, the ANC now faces almost daily demonstrations over the failure of the government it leads to fulfill promises to create jobs, address poverty and improve living standards. Unemployment is at 27 percent, the central bank anticipates zero growth this year and the nation’s credit rating is at risk of being cut to junk by S&P Global Ratings in December. A succession of graft scandals implicating President Jacob Zuma, 74, has also fueled discontent.

“I didn’t vote for the ANC because I feel like they don’t care any more,” said Ntombifuthi Dlamini, 21, who cast his vote in Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg. “I have a problem with the corruption in the party and government. We need to just give the ANC a shock by voting for other parties and maybe we’ll see real change.”

ANC Rivals

The ANC’s main rivals are the Democratic Alliance, which controls Cape Town and won 22 percent support in national elections in 2014, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, which won 6.4 percent.

The polls opened at 7 a.m. and closed at about 7 p.m. People still waiting in line would be able to cast ballots after the close. Final results are expected to be announced by Aug. 6. Two hundred parties fielded candidates for 257 councils and a record 26.3 million people have registered to vote.

Voting proceeded mainly peacefully despite a few incidents, Mosotho Moepya, the chief electoral officer of the state agency managing the elections, told reporters in Pretoria.

The rand strengthened 0.2 percent against the dollar 13.9737 per dollar at 7 p.m. in Johannesburg. It’s gained 11 percent this year, the third-best performer of 24 emerging-market currencies monitored by Bloomberg.

For a QuickTake explainer on the election and latest polls, click here

While the DA’s pledge to make it easier to do business is diametrically opposed to the EFF’s call for the nationalization of mines, banks and land, both parties have said they are open to forming coalitions with each other but not the ANC, increasing the likelihood of municipalities falling into opposition hands.

The Ipsos opinion poll of 3,142 eligible voters showed the ANC leading in Johannesburg by 46 percent to the DA’s 41 percent, by 47 percent to 43 percent for the DA in Pretoria and losing in the southern port city of Port Elizabeth by a 37 percent to 44 percent margin. The ANC says its own surveys show it retaining control of the main centers, while the DA says the race is neck-and-neck in Tshwane, the municipality that includes Pretoria, and Port Elizabeth.

The 104-year-old ANC has the advantage of incumbency and a 1 billion-rand ($71 million) campaign budget that dwarfs all of its rivals combined. It’s been credited with extending access to welfare grants, clean water and housing.

“I think the ANC will obviously win because it’s the majority party and it always wins,” Thulani Mbuli, a 21-year-old unemployed Tembisa resident. “The older people are also attached to it. They are holding onto the fact that it is Mandela’s party.”

Zuma Scandals

Zuma, who voted at a school in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, has come under pressure to quit since the nation’s top court ruled in March that he violated the constitution by refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on upgrading his private home. 

He may also have to face 783 charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud and money laundering, following a high court ruling that prosecutors erred when they decided to drop a case against him just weeks before he became president in 2009.

“For the first time ever I didn’t vote for the ANC,” Shirley Sekhu, a 36-year-old secretary, said as she walked out of a polling station in Tembisa with her daughter. “I only hope the party I voted for will win and make real change. The ANC has been in power for 20 years and nothing has really changed.”

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