ANC suffers worst electoral setback since end of apartheid

JOHANNESBURG – The African National Congress, South Africa’s once-vaunted liberation movement, has had its worst electoral performance since taking office in 1994, according to municipal election results released Thursday.

Faced with widespread anger over corruption and the collapse of services, the party won less than 50% of the national vote on Monday, the first time in its history that it has not crossed this threshold.

Voters went to the polls on Monday to choose councilors and mayors to rule cities, but they took the opportunity to voice their grievances over national issues, including record unemployment and anger over the handling of Covid . The result was a resounding rebuke to the ANC, especially in urban areas. Significantly low voter turnout was a new accusation against the ANC and the main opposition parties, with voters choosing smaller, identity-based parties.

After the municipal setbacks of 2016, ANC leaders vowed to “learn from our mistakes”, and they bet this year on polls that found President Cyril Ramaphosa with a higher approval rating than that of his party.

But no matter how warm South Africans feel towards their president, they see a disconnect between his message of national renewal and the corruption that has sullied his party and crippled municipalities.

“They listen to it, they love it,” said Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg. “But when they look down on the local leaders who are there, they see mediocrity. “

Since the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela was the face of the party, the ANC had not relied so much on the personality of its leader in a local election, said William Gumede, chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation. It was not enough to convince voters, but the ANC might have fallen below 40 percent if Mr Ramaphosa was not at the center of the campaign, Mr Gumede said.

Following this week’s embarrassing protest, Mr Ramaphosa is likely to face leadership challenges within his party. To replace him, his opponents will have to find a unifying candidate. Mr Ramaphosa, in turn, may have to fire corrupt but popular leaders, Mr Gumede said.

This fallout could lead to a split within the ruling party but prove beneficial to South African voters.

“It really revitalized the country. There was a sense of hopelessness and hopelessness in the country because the ANC was that dominant force, ”Mr. Gumede said.

Even with its losses on Monday, the ANC remains South Africa’s dominant party, winning 46 percent of the vote.

But the modest victory means he will now be forced to form coalitions with smaller parties in cities he once comfortably controlled. He will also have to seek political compromises in the province of Gauteng, seat of the economic capital, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, seat of government.

ANC officials tried to present the results in their best light.

“We are not losers here,” said Jessie Duarte, the party’s deputy general secretary, during a press briefing on the floor of the results center in Pretoria. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re the winning party on this advice. “

But Ms Duarte admitted that voters sent a message.

“We do not disrespect the electorate,” she said. ” They spoke. She said the party would be “pragmatic” in analyzing its losses.

Yet it was not just the losses that destabilized ANC leaders. Many South Africans appeared to be sending a message by not voting at all. The participation rate was 47%, a A drop of 11 percentage points from the last election.

While political parties have sought to blame the low turnout on a campaign season compressed by Covid-19 regulations and bad weather in parts of the country, many observers have attributed it to a disheartening political landscape. Inaction at the polls, one analyst suggested, was a form of action.

“We need to start analyzing and talking about not voting as a political activity per se,” said Tasneem Essop, researcher at the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Lungisile Dlamini, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who lives in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, was among those South Africans who did not go to the polls.

“I didn’t see the need for it,” she said. “They don’t do anything, so what’s the point of voting?

Daniel Vinokur, 27, worked as an auditor during the counting of the ballots – but none of the ballots counted was his, he said.

“I just don’t have a political party that I identify with,” he said.

Many who voted said they were motivated by national issues, like South Africa’s stagnant economy and record unemployment, which have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown measures that result.

“I think of the young,” said Bongile Gramany, a 62-year-old ANC supporter who voted in a church in Alexandra township. “If they can help young people find jobs, learn skills, I’ll be happy.

Like many party supporters, Ms. Gramany highlighted the ANC’s experience of governing and said she believed “they can change”.

The party still plays a disproportionate role in the South African political landscape and in the psyche of voters, said Ms Essop, the political analyst. For some South Africans, the decision not to vote, or to vote for a smaller party, may have been in part intended to punish a party that did not live up to the ideals of Mandela, its famous leader, has t she declared.

Yet despite a record 95,427 candidates for 10,468 council seats, the main opposition parties struggled to make their voices heard. The Democratic Alliance, which is the main opposition, has failed to make any gains, instead, losing support by 5 percentage points since 2016.

Opposition parties that attracted voters relied on questions of identity in communities where people felt abandoned by the ruling party.

In KwaZulu-Natal province, once an ANC stronghold, the Inkatha Freedom Party has relied on a history of Zulu nationalism to help it win nearly a quarter of the vote in that province overwhelmingly. rural part.

Likewise, the Freedom Front Plus, a historically Afrikaner nationalist party that has repositioned itself as a bulwark for all minorities against the ANC, has increased its support across the country.

These gains may be a sign that South African voters are turning to the political right. Instead of the “big ideologies” of left-wing parties, said Susan Booysen, head of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection in Johannesburg, some voters may want parties and civic organizations that they believe “can push forward things “.

“I think it’s relatively easy for a community to turn in that direction,” she said, “when exposed to such harsh conditions and when the national government is not helping out. “.

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