Nelson Mandela's ANC party on track to lose its majority in South African election (2024)

South African political parties geared up for coalition talks on Friday as the governing African National Congress (ANC) looked set to fall well short of a majority in this week's election for the first time in 30 years of democracy.

With results in from 57.3 per cent of polling stations, the party of the late Nelson Mandela had 41.9 per cent of the votes, a precipitous drop from the 57.5 per cent it secured in the last national election in 2019.

While the ANC looked likely to remain the country's largest political force, voters appear to have punished the former liberation movement for years of decline.

Nelson Mandela's ANC party on track to lose its majority in South African election (1)

The ANC had won every previous national election since the historic 1994 vote that ended white minority rule, but over the last decade South Africans have watched the economy stagnate, unemployment and poverty climb and infrastructure crumble, leading to regular power outages.

Projections by South Africa's Council for Scientific and Industrial Research indicate the ANC will end up with about 40.5 per cent of the vote by the time the full results are in.

Results appear after site outage

So far the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) is in second place on 23.4 per cent.

"I think it's a very good day for South Africa," DA leader John Steenhuisen said.

"We said for the last 30 years the way to rescue South Africa was to break the ANC majority. We've done that."

uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a new party led by former president Jacob Zuma, is at 11.3 per cent after eating into ANC support, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Zuma's home province.

MK appears to have overtaken the radical Economic Freedom Fighters party (EFF), led by Julius Malema, which is currently the third-largest party in parliament but is sitting on 9.5 per cent.

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The results page on the electoral commission's website, which had been updating seamlessly since the start of the count, went blank for roughly two hours on Friday due to a technical problem. The data reappeared shortly after 5pm Friday AEST.

"The data in the data centre remains intact and the results have not been compromised … result processing continues unaffected," the commission said in a statement.

By law, the election commission has seven days to release full provisional results, but election officials have said they are planning for a Sunday announcement.

Opposition fears 'doomsday coalition'

Political parties' share of the vote will determine the number of seats they get in the National Assembly, which then elects the next president.

That could still be the ANC's leader, incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa. However, an embarrassing showing at the polls risks fuelling a leadership challenge from within his party.

Nelson Mandela's ANC party on track to lose its majority in South African election (2)

Though the DA says it wants to oust the ruling party, Mr Steenhuisen has not ruled out a partnership to block what he has called a "doomsday coalition" with the ANC bringing the EFF or MK into government.

Investors and the business community have voiced concern over the prospect of such a coalition, given the EFF is calling for the seizure of white-owned farms and the nationalisation of mines and banks, and Mr Zuma's MK also talks about land confiscation.

However, when asked if his party was in coalition talks on Friday, Mr Steenhuisen simply said: "No."

"We've got to wait for the results to end before we can start with any major discussions, but my first port of call is going to be with my Multi-Party Charter conference," he said, referring to an alliance of opposition parties formed before the election that does not include MK or the EFF.

On Thursday, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe said the party was still aiming to win a majority.

"A coalition is not our plan: it is a consequence. We will deal with that consequence when it happens," he said.

ANC's coal-belt voters defect en masse

As ANC officials begin to ponder the party's calamitous drop in support, the anger in its heartland coal-mining belt gives a hint as to why it faces its worst result ever — and the prospect of sharing power with its rivals.

In the township of Botleng — once a source of cheap farm labour for the country's hated white minority ex-rulers — roads are riddled with potholes, power cuts are frequent and unemployed youths smoke cheap heroin to ease boredom and despair.

Car wash owner Emmanuel Mthimunye, 34, says he had always cast his ballot for the African National Congress in the past. This time he wanted to see something different.

"I don't want to see unemployment, I don't want to see those shacks," he said, gesturing to some tin houses set against yellowing grass littered with rubbish.

"I don't want to see those potholes, I don't want to see young guys smoking nyaope [heroin mixed with cannabis] … because there's nothing else to do."

Nelson Mandela's ANC party on track to lose its majority in South African election (3)

For Mr Mthimunye and others in Mpumalanga, the province where the town of Botleng is situated, the promises of a better life for the country's black majority after Nelson Mandela propelled the ANC to victory 30 years ago ring hollow.

That may explain why the party's share of the vote in the eastern province has tumbled to 53 per cent from 72 per cent in 2019.

One such promise was government-sponsored housing, for which Mr Mthimunye applied in 2012. He is still waiting.

He worries about not being able to afford his rent and ending up in a makeshift shack as well.

"Those guys [the ANC] fought for freedom, but that freedom has slowly but surely been taken away from us," he said.

"We can't do anything with no money."

An ANC spokesperson declined to comment, and ANC leaders have said little about similar widespread claims in the past.

But in a church service in Cape Town earlier in May, President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted the ruling party had made "mistakes".

"We have humbled ourselves and admitted where we have gone wrong. Our focus is on fixing those mistakes and working hard to renew the ANC," he said.

Reuters

Nelson Mandela's ANC party on track to lose its majority in South African election (2024)
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