It was a long night for the African National Congress party faithful as a popular revolt in the cities of Tshwane (Pretoria) and Port Elizabeth upended the ANC’s long-held power base in those two key municipalities.
The ANC was beaten in working-class “Black township” areas such as Mamelodi in Tshwane and Motherwell in Port Elizabeth.
The party’s numbers fell even when they managed to eke out a victory. In ward 21 in Mabopane, north-western Tshwane, for example, the ANC support fell from 82 percent in the last municipal elections to 59 percent. The opposition Democratic Alliance, on the other hand, doubled their vote total to just short of 20 percent and the Economic Freedom Fighters picked up 19 percent.
Final results released by the Electoral Commission of South Africa Saturday night confirm the ANC will need a coalition to govern Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Rustenburg.
The ANC’s performance raises fears about the 2019 general election.
Party officials have circled the wagons around their leader. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe blamed voters. “Black people do not appreciate the value of voting,” he said in a radio interview, adding he saw a noticeable difference between the energy with which people in the “suburbs” and people in the “townships” went about things on Election Day.
In the primarily white suburbs, he observed, long lines formed early Wednesday, whereas voters in the townships took their time getting to the voting stations.
Those who blame President Jacob Zuma cite his failure to rein in corruption, including spending taxpayer dollars for upgrades at his private home and luxury cars for his four wives, allowing needs for basic services to go unmet and generally failing to prioritize the needs of the poor.
By Monday, Gauteng ANC leaders were calling for Zuma to step down.
Besides costing them votes because of the corruption allegations and many scandals associated with his administration, they fault him for racially divisive statements towards the Democratic Alliance. “Confused Black people” voted for the DA but are now coming back to the ANC, Zuma said, adding that the DA is the brainchild of apartheid and does not have the interest of Black people at heart.
Meanwhile, Mmusi Maimane, the first Black leader of the Democratic Alliance, is being compared with President Barack Obama.
Holding a master’s degree in theology, Maimane has stirring oratorical skills and a cerebral aloofness that recalls the U.S. president, writes Aryn Baker of Time magazine. “From the moment he entered politics, he proved an electrifying speaker.”
Maimane vows to fight to fulfill Mandela’s vision of a “rainbow nation.” “It’s upon all of us as South Africans to fight for that ideal of non-racialism,” he said.
The ANC has two short years before presidential polls to turn the tide. Without taking action quickly, the party has little hope of reinventing itself. “It is not a long road from 54 percent to 44 percent—just ask the dazed and confused ANC leaders in Nelson Mandela Bay,” wrote an opinion writer in Business Day Live.