The Anc Party That Freed South Africa From Apartheid Loses Its 30-Year Majority In Landmark Election

Voters line up to cast their ballot for general election in Alexandra, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Voters line up to cast their ballot for general election in Alexandra, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday, May 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The African National Congress party lost its majority in a historic election result Saturday that puts South Africa on a new political path for the first time since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule 30 years ago.

With more than 99% of votes counted, the once-dominant ANC had received just over 40% in Wednesday's parliamentary election, well short of the majority it had held since the all-race vote of 1994 that ended apartheid and brought it to power under Nelson Mandela.

The final results are still to be formally declared Sunday by the Independent Electoral Commission, but the ANC cannot pass 50% and an era of coalition government — also a first for South Africa — is looming.

The ANC remains the biggest party despite a staggering loss of support since the last election in 2019 as South Africa struggles with deep poverty and inequality. The country has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and voters also blamed the ANC for shortages of clean water, electricity, housing and other services.

The ANC will now likely need to look for a coalition partner or partners to remain in the government and reelect President Cyril Ramaphosa for a second and final term. Parliament must meet to elect the South African president within 14 days after the election result is declared.

“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 main opposition Democratic Alliance party.

Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party, said that the ANC's “entitlement of being the sole dominant party” was over.

The way forward could be complicated for Africa’s most advanced economy, and there’s no coalition on the table yet. The three main opposition parties and many more smaller ones were in the mix as the bargaining begins.

“We can talk to anybody and everybody,” ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe said on national broadcaster SABC.

Steenhuisen's Democratic Alliance received around 21% of the vote. The new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma, who has turned against the ANC he once led, was third with just over 14% of the vote in the first election it has contested. The Economic Freedom Fighters was fourth with just over 9%.

More than 50 parties contested the election, many of them winning tiny shares, but the three main opposition parties appear to be the most obvious for the ANC to approach.

Electoral commission Chairman Mosotho Moepya said it was a time for everyone to keep calm “and for leaders to lead and for voices of reason to continue to prevail.”

"This is a moment we need to manage and manage well," he said.

Steenhuisen said his party is open to discussions with the ANC, as did Malema. The MK Party said one of their conditions for any agreement was that Ramaphosa is removed as ANC leader and president. That underlined the fierce personal political battle between Zuma, who resigned as South African president under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2018, and Ramaphosa, who replaced him.

“We are willing to negotiate with the ANC, but not the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa," MK Party spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndlela said.

MK and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters have called for parts of the economy to be nationalized.

The centrist Democratic Alliance, or DA, is viewed as business-friendly. Analysts say an ANC-DA coalition would be more welcomed by foreign investors.

DA has been the most critical opposition party for years and doesn't share the ANC's pro-Russia and pro-China foreign policy. South Africa takes over the presidency of the Group of 20 industrialized and emerging-market nations next year.

An ANC-DA coalition "would be a marriage of two drunk people in Las Vegas. It will never work,” Gayton McKenzie, the leader of the smaller Patriotic Alliance party, told South African media.

DA says an ANC-MK-EFF agreement would be a “doomsday coalition” given MK and EFF are made up of former ANC figures and would pursue the same failed policies.

The three opposition parties had a combined share that was bigger than the ANC, but they are highly unlikely to all work together. The DA was also part of a preelection agreement with other smaller parties to potentially form a coalition.

Amid it all, there was no sense of celebrations from ordinary South Africans, but rather the realization that a rocky political road was ahead. The Daily Maverick newspaper had a South African scratching his head with the words: “What Does It Mean For Our Future?” on its front page. The Die Burger newspaper led with an image of about a dozen political parties' logos going into a meat grinder.

South African opposition parties were united in one thing — something had to change in the country of 62 million, which is Africa's most developed but also one of the most unequal in the world.

The official unemployment rate is 32% and the poverty disproportionately affects Black people, who make up 80% of the population and have been the core of the ANC's support for years. The violent crime rate is also high.

The ANC has seen a steady decline in its support over the last 20 years, but by around three to five percentage points each election. It dropped 17 percentage points this time from the 57.5% it won in 2019.

Nearly 28 million South Africans were registered to vote, and turnout was expected to be around 60%, according to the electoral commission.

People lined up on a cold winter night and waited hours after the official poll closing time, with some votes being cast at 3 a.m. the following day. That indicated the desire from many to have their say, but also reflected one of South Africa's inherent problems — some voting stations had delays because of electricity outages plunging them into the dark.


Gerald Imray reported from Cape Town.


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