Mandela’s ANC loses majority for first time since end of apartheid

Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, casts his ballot for the general election
Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president, casts his ballot for the general election - AP/Jerome Delay

The African National Congress has lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of  apartheid, with voters angry at joblessness, inequality and power shortages.

Nearly 99 per cent of votes had been counted by Saturday night and the once-dominant ANC – the party Nelson Mandela led to power at the end of apartheid – had received just over 40 per cent.

The nosedive from its 57.5 per cent share in 2019 comes after years of economic mismanagement and corruption that led to widespread poverty, extremely high levels of unemployment and a failure in government services.

Despite being Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, at 32 per cent, while millions have to contend with regular water and power shortages.

‘This has opened our eyes’

Many voters saw this election as a chance to change direction, with the slogan “2024 is our 1994” circulating on social media and on campaign posters.

“I’m actually shocked,” said Maropene Ramokgopa, an ANC official. “It has opened our eyes to say, ‘Look, we are missing something, somewhere.’”

Opposition parties have hailed the end of the ANC’s 30-year majority as a momentous breakthrough.

“The way to rescue South Africa is to break the ANC’s majority and we have done that,” said John Steenhuisen, the leader of the centrist Democratic Alliance (DA).

The election has put one of the continent’s most stable countries on an uncharted course, and the ANC must now share power with a rival in order to keep it – an unprecedented prospect.

“We can talk to everybody and anybody,” Gwede Mantashe, the ANC chairman, and mines and energy minister, told reporters.

The ANC could seek an alliance on the Left with either the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), led by Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, or the populist Economic Freedom Fighters; or it could turn to the biggest opposition party, the DA, which garnered 21.7 per cent of the vote.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma gestures after voting during the elections
Jacob Zuma, the former South African president, whose MKP could play a crucial role in forming the next government - Rogan Ward/Reuters

The MKP said one of its conditions for any agreement was the removal of Cyril Ramaphosa – the current president – as leader of the ANC.

“We are willing to negotiate with the ANC, but not the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa,” Nhlamulo Ndlela, the party spokesman, said.

The far-Left Economic Freedom Fighters, which took around 9.5 per cent of the vote, said it would speak to all parties about forming part of a new government.

‘We want to humble the ANC’

“We have achieved our mission ... to bring the ANC below 50 per cent. We want to humble the ANC,” Julius Malema, the party leader who is also a former ANC youth leader, said.

Under the constitution, South Africa’s National Assembly must convene within 14 days to elect a speaker and a president after the declaration of the results.

Investors in Africa’s most industrialised economy will hope the uncertain picture will quickly become clear – MKP and the Economic Freedom Fighters have called for parts of the economy to be nationalised, while the DA is viewed as a business-friendly party.

Insiders say that Mr Ramaphosa’s allies prefer an investor-favoured pact with the business-friendly DA, which would keep him at the helm.

ANC deputy secretary-general Nomvula Mokonyane, left, arrives at the Independent Electoral Commission National Results Center at Gallagher Convention Centre
Nomvula Mokonyane, left, the ANC deputy secretary-general, arrives at the Independent Electoral Commission National Results Centre at Gallagher Convention Centre - Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

But some of Mr Ramaphosa’s detractors in the party favour an alliance with the Economic Freedom Fighters and MKP, which could mean the president is ousted or forced to resign.

Analysts say one option for the ANC could be a “government of national unity” involving a broad spectrum of many parties, rather than a formal coalition between a few – an arrangement similar to the one set up after 1994’s historic vote.

Nearly 28 million South Africans were registered to vote and turnout is expected to be around 60 per cent, according to figures from the independent electoral commission that runs the election.

The full and final results are expected to be published on Sunday.

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