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South Africa elections: ANC, which freed country from apartheid, loses majority for first time in 30 years

This marks the end of the African National Congress' (ANC) three-decade dominance after the landmark vote in 1994, which freed South Africa from apartheid and made Nelson Mandela the President. Voters had been frustrated with over joblessness, inequality and power shortages, among other issues.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Johannesburg Updated on: June 01, 2024 18:11 IST
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces a tough
Image Source : REUTERS South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces a tough ordeal for a second term.

Johannesburg: South Africa was set to end three decades of dominance by the African National Congress (ANC) in an unprecedented development, as the party that freed the country from apartheid has lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years. With nearly 99 per cent votes counted, the once-dominant ANC received just over 40 per cent due to the frustration of the voters over joblessness, inequality and power shortages.

The dramatically weakened vote share of the ANC, well short of the majority it had held since the famed all-race vote of 1994 that ended apartheid and brought it to power under Nelson Mandela, means that the party will have to share power with a rival in order to keep power and re-elect Cyril Ramaphosa for a second term. Opposition parties hailed it as a momentous breakthrough for a country struggling with deep poverty and inequality.

The result ended the ANC's three-decade dominance of South Africa's young democracy, which will complicate the way forward for Africa's most advanced economy. "We can talk to everybody and anybody," Gwede Mantashe, the ANC chair and current mines and energy minister, told reporters in comments broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), but did not disclose which party will be sought by the ANC as a coalition partner.

While the ANC managed 40.29 per cent, the main opposition party - the Democratic Alliance - won over 21 per cent of the votes. uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a new party led by former president Jacob Zuma, managed to grab 14.71 per cent in the first election it has contested. MK and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters have called for parts of the economy to be nationalised. The centrist Democratic Alliance is viewed as a business-friendly party and analysts say an ANC-DA coalition would be more welcomed by foreign investors.

An uncertain future

The ANC has won every previous national election by a landslide margin since 1994, but its recent support has crumbled due to rise in unemployment, economy stagnation and problems over roads and power stations. Furthermore, MK's strong performance, especially in Zuma's home province of KwaZulu-Natal is a key reason for the ANC failing to secure majority this year.

The focus would be on which parties the ANC chooses to form a coalition government, as the Parliament needs to sit and elect a president within 14 days of the final election results being officially declared. A flurry of negotiations were set to take place and they will likely be complicated. For example, the MK Party said one of their conditions is the removal of Ramaphosa as the ANC leader and President.

Despite the uncertainty, South African opposition parties were hailing the new political picture as a much-needed change for the country of 62 million, which is Africa's most developed but also one of the most unequal in the world. “We have said for the last 30 years that the way to rescue South Africa is to break the ANC's majority and we have done that,” Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen said.

Why are voters unhappy with ANC?

President Cyril Ramaphosa can in theory still keep his job, as the former liberation movement was on course to get about twice as many votes as the next party. But he will be weakened and could face calls to quit both from opposition parties and critics in the deeply-divided ANC. On Friday, however, a top ANC official backed him to stay on as party leader, and analysts say he has no obvious successor.

Investors in Africa's most industrialised economy will hope the uncertain picture can quickly become clear and that the country avoids an extended period of wrangling if the parties struggle to reach an agreement. Some parties have questioned what they say are vote-counting inconsistencies that may lead to some results being contested.

South Africa has widespread poverty and extremely high levels of unemployment and the ANC has struggled to raise the standard of living for millions. The official unemployment rate is 32 per cent, one of the highest in the world, and the poverty disproportionately affects Black people, who make up 80 per cent of the population and have been the core of the ANC's support for years. The ANC has also been blamed - and apparently punished by voters - for a failure in basic government services that impacts millions and leaves many without water, electricity or proper housing.


(with inputs from agencies)


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