South African election sees Cyril Ramaphosa return as President, but ANC vote falls

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The African National Congress has easily won South Africa’s general election, but its share of the vote fell, reflecting anger at corruption scandals and racial inequalities that remain entrenched a generation after the party took power.

Key points:

  • The African National Congress has been in power since 1994, but recorded its worst election result
  • High unemployment and accusations of corruption are being blamed for the result
  • It won the crucial provincial race in Gauteng, which is home to Johannesburg and administrative capital, Pretoria

It was the worst electoral performance by the late Nelson Mandela’s former liberation movement, which has governed South Africa since the country’s first free election marked the end of white minority rule in 1994.

The ANC had not previously won less than 60 per cent of the vote in a national poll, but its victory secures it enough seats in parliament to give President Cyril Ramaphosa another five-year term in office. 

However, it may leave him short of ammunition to battle party rivals who oppose his reforms to galvanise the economy and counter graft.

“Let us now work together, black and white, men and women, young and old to build a South Africa that truly belongs to all that live in it,” he said in a speech after his party was declared the winner.

Results showed the ANC secured 57.5 per cent of the parliamentary vote, while the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), also saw its vote share fall.

The DA’s communications director Mabine Seabe said the party viewed the outcome as “a positive result. We’ve grown in communities we’ve never grown before”.

ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe said the party had received “another lifeline” from voters. He said the party had improved compared with the 54 per cent it won in the 2016 local government poll.

High unemployment and claims of corruption erodes support

Mr Ramaphosa had sought to re-engage voters whose enthusiasm for the ANC has been eroded by its faltering efforts to address corruption, high unemployment and persistent racial disparities in housing, services and land distribution.

Analysts had said a poor showing by the ANC would embolden opponents of Mr Ramaphosa and risk a challenge to his leadership.

Election analyst Wayne Sussman said the DA lost votes to the conservative Freedom Front party, which capitalised on plans to allow land expropriation without compensation. White people, who are just 9 per cent of the 56 million-strong population, still own more than 70 per cent of agricultural land.

“The DA wasn’t speaking enough about safety for farmers and agriculture for some voters,” Mr Sussman said.

The Freedom Front, which says it aims to protect Afrikaners’ interests, campaigned under the slogan “fight back”.

“In some upper-middle-class suburbs which traditionally vote DA, there was also a swing to the ANC. This can be attributed partly to the Ramaphosa effect,” Mr Sussman added.

The provisional results showed the ANC won a tight provincial race in Gauteng, where South Africa’s biggest city and commercial centre Johannesburg and the administrative capital Pretoria are located, with 50.19 per cent of the vote.

Losing control there would have been a blow to the president, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma in February 2018.