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South Africa elections: ANC takes early lead but may lose grip on cities

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party has taken an early lead as vote counting continued in local government elections where it faces the risk of losing control of key cities for the first time since coming to power.
The party, which toppled white apartheid rule after the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, is up against its stiffest electoral challenge to date amid a backdrop of high unemployment, a stagnant economy and controversies surrounding the president, Jacob Zuma.
With a quarter of the votes counted by 3am BST on Thursday, the ANC had 50%, against 34% for the Democratic Alliance (DA) and 6% for the Economic Freedom Fighters, which was participating in only its second election.
Opinion polls see a close race in the nation’s capital, Pretoria, and South Africa’s economic hub, Johannesburg. In the early hours of Thursday, the ANC and DA were neck-and-neck at 43% each in Tshwane municipality, which contains Pretoria, although only 15% of the votes had been counted.
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There was also a close race expected in Nelson Mandela Bay and which was named after the anti-apartheid champion and South Africa’s first black president. Latest reports from the municipality, which comprises the eastern Cape city of Port Elizabeth, said the DA led with 61% versus 30% for the ANC.

A significant loss of support for the ruling party, which led South Africa’s decades-long struggle against oppressive white minority rule, would be a blow ahead of the next major test – the 2019 national elections.
The ANC won an overall 62% of the vote in the last municipal elections in 2011, while the DA garnered 24%. Final results for this year’s election are expected by Friday.
The DA is expected to maintain control of Cape Town, the only big city not run by the ANC. It is an historically white-dominated movement hoping to expand support under its new black leader Mmusi Maimane.
“I voted DA because I’m sick of the rotten, corrupt ANC,” said Simpiwe, an unemployed 55-year-old surrounded by shacks in a rundown Nelson Mandela Bay township, after casting his ballot on Wednesday.
Many South Africans who queued up to vote said they were worried about Zuma’s performance and the state of Africa’s most industrialised economy.
Senzo Makhubela, a 32-year-old security guard, said the ANC needed to build more houses and do more to develop areas like Diepsloot, the shantytown where he lives north of Johannesburg.
But he was sticking with the ruling party for now, despite the travails of its leader. “Zuma doesn’t make decisions alone so the ANC is not Zuma alone, it’s a collective,” he said.
Zuma survived an impeachment vote in April after the country’s constitutional court said he breached the law by ignoring an order to repay some of the $16m in state funds spent on renovating his private home.

In December, he rattled investors after changing his finance minister twice in a week, sending the rand plummeting. The currency has since recovered.
Zuma has said he would repay some of the funds spent on his home and rejected criticism of his conduct, but anger is rising in a country on the brink of recession.
Analysts also predict a downgrade by credit ratings agencies to “junk” status.
“A very weak outcome for the ANC, getting less than a 55% national vote share and losing three metros, would likely be viewed as a market positive,” said Nomura emerging market analyst Peter Attard Montalto.

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