Another victory for South Africa's ANC, but this time, a hint of weakness


ANC supporters cheer on voters along the streets of Khayelitsha Township on May 7, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.


Charlie Shoemaker

SOWETO, South Africa — Twenty years after Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress triumphed in South Africa’s first free elections, the party, to exactly no one’s surprise, has won another resounding victory — with one important caveat.

The ANC looked set to take around 63 percent of the vote as ballots continued to be counted late Thursday. It’s a strong win, for sure. But importantly, this means that the ANC under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma has slid backward from its result of 65.9 percent in the 2009 polls. The party’s main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, increased its share of the vote from 16.66 percent in 2009 to around 22 percent this time around.

Zuma in his political career has been tarnished by a litany of scandals — most recently, revelations of taxpayer-funded upgrades to his private rural home at Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal. The loss of support for the ANC means Zuma enters his second term as president dogged by questions as to whether he will see through the next five years in office. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was recalled during his second term, though mainly due to a nasty, Zuma-led leadership battle within the party.

At polling stations Wednesday, many voters said they were supporting the ANC simply out of habit and loyalty to the party, which helped liberate South Africa from apartheid rule, though they weren’t fans of their president.

“I’m not doing it for Zuma,” said homemaker Thandeka Jula, 34, after casting her ballot for the ANC at a polling station in the Diepkloof area of Soweto.

“I’m doing it for Madiba, because he’s the icon of the ANC,” she explained, referring to Mandela by his clan name. “This is the first election since he was gone. He fought for this country, he has done a lot for this country. So we don’t want to let him down.”

“I just vote for them because of Tata Madiba, out of respect,” said Jerry Shabalala, 38, a security guard who lives in a shack in Soweto. “Even though they are corrupt. But I respect the ANC because of Madiba.”

A new challenge came from the Economic Freedom Fighters, an upstart extreme left-wing party led by fired ANC youth leader Julius Malema.

The EFF looks set to take just over 5 percent — performing better than many of its longer-established rivals — meaning it will have guaranteed seats in parliament under South Africa’s electoral system.

In the Klipspruit area of Soweto, Raymond Lesei, 38, said he had voted for the EFF after supporting the ANC in all previous elections since 1994.

Lesei, who runs a restaurant in a trendy area of downtown Johannesburg, said he voted “to send a strong message to ANC. To say, you’re not indispensible.”

“The ANC, with its current brand of leadership, leaves a lot to be desired. There’s a lot of corruption, a lot of arrogance,” he said.

“And when you’re going wrong, you ought to be corrected,” Lesei added.