Zuma Under Fire as ANC Sheds Support in South African Cities

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Photographer: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images
  • ANC set to lose outright control of Johannesburg, Pretoria
  • President still has support in top bodies of the ANC

South African President Jacob Zuma will face renewed pressure to quit after partial election results showed his African National Congress losing outright control of the capital, Pretoria, and Johannesburg in its worst electoral showing since apartheid ended.

The ANC and the Democratic Alliance were running neck-and-neck in both cities, with about 90 percent of votes counted from Wednesday’s local government election. The ruling party lost the southern Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, a key port and vehicle manufacturing hub.

“It’s terrible news for Jacob Zuma,” Mcebisi Ndletyana, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, said in an interview. “This is a serious show of disapproval of his leadership. Every right-minded person has been saying Jacob Zuma is a serious liability to the ANC.”

Calls for Zuma, 74, to resign have mounted 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 decision that prosecutors erred when they decided to drop a case against him just weeks before he became president in 2009.

For a Quicktake explainer on why the ANC is losing voter support, click here

Zuma’s Hometown

The ANC lost the vote in the town of Nkandla, where Zuma has his private residence, to the Inkatha Freedom Party, which has governed the area since a 2012 by-election.

“Zuma now gives the impression of being in office but not in power,” Nicholas Spiro, a partner at London-based Lauressa Advisory Ltd., which advises asset managers, said by e-mail. “The election result is a huge vote of no confidence in his presidency and will deepen divisions within the ANC. ”

Yet, Zuma’s allies in the ANC National Executive Committee and in the government may shield him for being replaced before his current presidential term ends in 2019.

“It doesn’t appear that the party’s leadership is prepared to oust him -- quite the opposite,” Spiro said. “The tipping point has not been reached, even though Zuma’s presidency has been severely undermined.”

Rand Gains

The rand gained 0.4 percent to 13.65 per dollar at 1:06 p.m. in Johannesburg on Friday. It was the best performer of 24 emerging-market currencies monitored by Bloomberg on Thursday. The currency is still down about 40 percent against the dollar since Zuma took office on May 9, 2009.

Besides unhappiness with Zuma, the ANC has also come under criticism for failing to reduce a 27 percent unemployment rate, improve living standards and reignite an economy that the central bank projects will post zero percent growth this year. Communities staged 102 protests against a lack of decent housing, education and other services in the first seven months of the year, up from 89 in the same period last year, according to Municipal IQ, which monitors the municipalities.

“We can’t blame President Zuma,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said. “The party leadership will take collective responsibility.”

Pretoria Vote

The ANC fell behind in Tshwane, the municipality that includes Pretoria, with 41.5 percent of the vote, trailing the Democratic Alliance’s 44.2 percent support, partial tallies released by the Independent Electoral Commission show. In Johannesburg, the ruling party had 42 percent support compared with the DA’s 41.6 percent. The DA won Nelson Mandela Bay, which includes the city of Port Elizabeth, with 46.5 percent support, compared to the ANC’s 41.6 percent, and increased its majority in Cape Town.

For a table of the latest election results, click here

The Economic Freedom Fighters, which advocates the nationalization of mines, banks and land, holds the balance of power in Pretoria and Johannesburg. Like the DA, it has said it is prepared to enter into coalitions with other opposition parties, but not the ANC.

Leadership Crisis

“Whichever way you look at it, people are saying they are dissatisfied with either Zuma or the way the ANC is dealing with its leadership crisis,” said Abdul Waheed Patel, managing director of Cape Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting. “I don’t think it’s going to be an automatic exit for Zuma just because the ANC has done so dismally. He still has some sway; I don’t think he becomes powerless.”

With 13.7 million, or about 90 percent of the estimate of proportional representation votes cast nationally in the election counted as of 12:20 p.m. on Friday, the ANC had 55 percent of the total support, followed by the DA with 26.4 percent, according to the commission. The Economic Freedom Fighters stood at 8 percent. The ANC garnered 62.9 percent support in the 2011 municipal election. Including votes for ward councilors, the ANC had 54.4 percent overall support.

Pressure will intensify on Zuma in the lead-up to party elections late next year, according to Robert Besseling, the executive director of risk advisers EXX Africa.

“The election is a referendum on President Zuma to a certain extent,” Besseling said by phone from Johannesburg. “I think he will be blamed for the party’s showing. Various NEC members will start fearing for their jobs. That will make them start shifting their loyalty to the anti-Zuma faction within the party.”

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