In South Africa, the ANC experiences a historic setback in municipal elections

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Near Cape Town, South Africa on November 1, 2021.

Twenty-seven years after Nelson Mandela came to power triumphantly over the ruins of the racist apartheid regime, for the first time in its history, the African National Congress (ANC) is expected to bring together less than half of South voters. Africans during an election. If the final result of the municipal ballot held on 1is November is not yet known, the ANC collected 46.2% of the votes nationwide, Wednesday, November 3, in the morning when two thirds of the ballots were counted.

The setback is historic but the result is not entirely a surprise to the party, which has met the wrath of South Africans throughout the campaign against a backdrop of sinking public services. All over the country, electricity and water cuts are on the rise. Aging infrastructure is accumulating damage as the coffers of municipalities have been emptied by a decade of calamitous management and corruption under the mandate of President Jacob Zuma (2009-2018).

Read also South Africa: deprived of public services, townships threaten to sanction ANC

In the stronghold of Soweto, Johannesburg’s largest township where he invested considerable energy during the campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa has never ceased to ward off blows. On Friday, as he was preparing to hold his last meeting, residents again blocked roads to protest against the carelessness of the public authorities. On Monday, when voting in Chiawelo, the head of state was greeted with boos from opposition supporters. The same day, it was necessary to slalom between the cinder blocks and the remains of burnt tires to make their way through this district of Soweto.

Abstention record

However, it was not the outbursts of anger that marked this day but the emptiness of the polling stations. The abstention promises to be a record, probably between 40% and 45% nationally, according to projections from a local media.

In charge of the ANC elections, the Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula chose to see an encouraging message: “What voters are saying is not that they reject us, but that they withdraw their votes. The worst punishment would have been if they voted for the opposition ”, he said on Tuesday evening. It evokes ” a warning “ for the ANC. Political analyst Richard Calland also speaks of a ” yellow card “, “Not only for the ANC, but for the whole democratic system”.

“The ANC’s luck is to have President Ramaphosa at a time when we encounter the greatest difficulties”, adds Fikile Mbalula. In fact, at the exit of the polls in Soweto on Monday, many voters said they still believed in the training, citing the head of state who has been trying to reform the country and the party since coming to power in 2018. “The ANC can still change as long as the president is strict and puts an end to corruption”, Rose Molantao, 65, explained.

Read also “It’s simple, they plunder”: in South Africa, the ANC in the sights of the radical left

However, the trend emerging in Soweto is not reassuring for the ANC. The results of the township where the party still won 88% of the vote in 2011 are scrutinized. In 2016, the ANC’s score fell to 68%, the minimum to keep the party close to an absolute majority in Johannesburg. Tuesday evening, while the count was still in progress, the ANC gathered less than 60% of the votes in many districts.

And contrary to what Fikile Mbalula argues, voters did not just vote with their feet. If the two main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance, so far the only strong opponent of the ANC at the national level, and the Fighters for Economic Freedom (EFF), the radical left party led by the populist Julius Malema, did not take advantage of the anger against the ANC, a newcomer is sowing discord in the province of Johannesburg. Its name: Action SA. Created in 2020, the party has amassed between 15% and 20% of the vote in many districts of Soweto, going so far as to dislodge the ANC in certain neighborhoods such as Boomtown, where residents have not had electricity for five. month. Here, the ANC rose from 68% in 2016 to 34.9% of the vote.


At the head of this new multiracial, nationalist and populist group is Herman Mashaba, a businessman who made his fortune in hair care under apartheid. In 2016, the self-made man born in a township became mayor of Johannesburg thanks to a coalition. His tenure is marked by muscular expulsions and violently anti-immigrant rhetoric in a city regularly shaken by xenophobic violence. In 2019, Herman Mashaba slams the door of his party, the Democratic Alliance, and of the town hall, before returning to the race for the municipal elections. Its program combines the defense of free enterprise, social justice, the fight against corruption and illegal immigration.

Tuesday evening, the leader explained that he wanted to propose a « marketing » which is aimed at all actors of South African society. In Soweto, we explain having voted for him “Because he wants to get rid of immigrants who take drugs”, but also “Because it created jobs”. The one Richard Calland describes as « mini-Trump » has managed to seduce in the townships, but also in the predominantly white neighborhoods of northern Johannesburg, the fortress of his former party, where he gathers 10% to 20% of the vote.

The result of the municipal elections confirms that the era of absolute domination of the ANC at the local level has given way to that of coalitions. The movement, which began in 2016, challenges local governance for stability in a country where parties are not used to working with several hands. As soon as it has landed, Action SA has established itself as a major piece on the new chessboard that is emerging in Johannesburg and in the community of municipalities that manages the capital, Pretoria.

But Herman Mashaba sees further as the results of these elections suggest that“There is now an opportunity for the opposition to kick the ANC out of power, step by step”, emphasizes Richard Calland. If the millionaire has chosen to focus his nascent forces on a handful of municipalities, he has already made it known that he has the 2024 presidential election in his sights.

Read also South Africa: five things to know about Cyril Ramaphosa, the new leader of the ANC

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In South Africa, the ANC experiences a historic setback in municipal elections