South Africans vote in parliamentary elections that could end African National Congress dominance

The ANC in power in South Africa for 30 years tried on Wednesday to defy the forecasts and to retain its majority against all odds, during legislative elections which promise to be particularly contested.

Some 27.6 million registered participants had in mind the challenges facing the country, weighed down by high unemployment (33%), record inequality, and incessant water and electricity cuts. In the polling stations, some remain hopeful that the ANC will be able to improve this record, others are counting on the opposition.

In Soweto, President Cyril Ramaphosa, 71, very smiling, once again assured that the victory of the African National Congress (ANC) was “without doubt”.

The leader of the first opposition party (DA), John Steenhuisen, spoke of a new era, emphasizing that before, in each election, “it was self-evident that the ANC was going to win, we only wondered with what score” . Finally the country has “the opportunity for change”, he added.

South Africans must choose from around fifty lists, proportionally, to elect 400 deputies as well as the assemblies of the country’s nine provinces.

Some offices opened late in the morning, the electoral commission regretted at midday, but no significant incident was reported.

Offices will remain open until 9 p.m. and final results are not expected until the weekend. Parliament will then elect the next president in June.

“Nothing for us”

In Soweto, a symbolic place of the fight against apartheid, Agnes Ngobeni, a 76-year-old grandmother, voted “for the party that I love, the one that made me what I am today”, making little mystery about his loyalty to the ANC. “My vote will still count today.”

“I want change,” says Danveries Mabasa, 41 years old and unemployed. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We have no work, no water, nothing works.”

The ANC, “we vote for them but they do nothing for us,” also complains Jeffrey Benzane, 75, who is turning his back on Nelson Mandela’s party for the first time.

Nkateko Maranele, 29, who opens his clothing store a little further away, is outraged by the absence of young people, 45.5% affected by unemployment, in the polling stations. “They are waiting for change from their beds? »

In Nkandla, in Zulu country, Nokuthobeka Ngcobo, 26, nevertheless enthusiastically gave her ballot to the small party led by former president Jacob Zuma, convinced that he can “change things”.

Dumisani Khanyile, in her twenties, is voting for the first time. He hopes that his choice will help “smooth out our difficulties” and leaves proud, his thumb stained with indelible ink.

End of ANC hegemony

This election is “without a doubt the most unpredictable since 1994”, notes political analyst Daniel Silke.

Due to growing disillusionment with the ANC, linked to a sluggish economy and numerous corruption scandals, the dominant party must prepare for “a result potentially below 50%”.

He would then be forced to form a coalition to stay in power, towards the liberal center or to its left, which will determine the “future direction” of the country.

If the ANC’s score is better than announced, namely just under 50%, it will only need a few parliamentarians from small parties to maintain its general line.

Participation has declined over the five-year terms, going from 89% in 1999 to 66% in the last elections in 2019.

Faced with a fragmented opposition, the ANC should remain the leading party in Parliament, where it currently has 230 out of 400 deputies.

But its “power”, linked to its aura as an ancient liberation movement, is weakening. “This of course creates opportunities” for the country, notes Mr. Silke, but promises “in the meantime an unstable and unpredictable immediate future”.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), which aims to “save South Africa” and in particular its economy, could win around 25% of the votes, polls estimate.

But the biggest threat to the ANC could come from the small party (MK) led by Jacob Zuma, which could attract up to 14% of voters, capitalizing on those disappointed in the ruling party.

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