South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress, ANC, has suffered its worst electoral setback since apartheid ended in 1994.
With 94% of the votes counted after Wednesday’s municipal elections, the party has lost the key battleground of Nelson Mandela Bay to the opposition Democratic Alliance, DA.
The two parties are in a close fight for Johannesburg and Pretoria but the ANC is still in the lead nationally, with 54% of the vote.
The ANC has won more than 60% of the vote at every election since the end of apartheid more than two decades ago. However, unemployment and corruption scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma have tarnished the party’s image.
The loss of Nelson Mandela Bay, which was named after ANC’s liberation hero and South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, is a big blow to the party.
Many of the leaders of the struggle against apartheid come from the area.
The Democratic Alliance, which took 46.5% compared to the ANC’s 41%, says it is in talks with other parties to form a coalition in the municipality on South Africa’s southern coast.
The ANC has conceded defeat in Nelson Mandela Bay after initially saying it was going to challenge the result.
“Of course we have had setbacks in areas like the Nelson Mandela Bay but we are magnanimous in victory and also magnanimous in defeat because we are democrats,” ANC’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, was quoted as saying.
DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, said the Nelson Mandela Bay had voted for change.
“I think that to me says that our message got through – it says our people heard us and South Africans still believe in a dream of a non-racial South Africa, South Africans still want our country to prosper,” he said.
The municipal election result is probably the biggest wake-up call that the governing ANC has has received since it ushered in democracy in South Africa in 1994.
By Friday mid-morning, the ANC had 54%, followed by 26% for the DA and 8% for the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF.
Many people believe that a poor ANC performance could embolden Zuma’s rivals within the party to challenge him.
The next general elections are due in 2019 but Zuma cannot stand for a third term as president.
The President has also had to weather a corruption scandal, after being ordered to repay taxpayers’ money spent on his private home.
Security was tight for the elections and the electoral commission said voting had passed off smoothly.