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South Africa's president urges unity as ANC support plunges

Published 06/02/2024, 04:38 AM
Updated 06/02/2024, 07:37 PM
© Reuters. South Africa's former President Jacob Zuma arrives with his daughter and member of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Duduzile Zuma at the National Results Operation Centre of the IEC, which serves as an operational hub where results of the national election are displ

By Nellie Peyton, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Bhargav Acharya

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - President Cyril Ramaphosa called on South Africa's political parties to work together for the good of the country as final results from last week's election confirmed his African National Congress had lost its majority for the first time.

The result, announced on Sunday, is the worst election showing for the ANC - Africa's oldest liberation movement, once led by Nelson Mandela - since it came to power 30 years ago, ending white minority rule.

Voters, angry at joblessness, inequality and rolling blackouts, slashed support for the ANC to 40.2%, down from 57.5% in the previous 2019 parliamentary vote.

Official results showed the ANC winning 159 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly, down from 230 previously.

The result means that the ANC must now share power, likely with a major political rival, in order to keep it - an unprecedented prospect in South Africa's post-apartheid history.

"South Africans expect the parties for which they have voted to find common ground, overcome their differences and act together for the good of everyone. That's what South Africans have said," Ramaphosa said after the electoral commission announced the final results.

He called the election a "victory for our democracy."

Political parties now have two weeks to work out a deal before the new parliament sits to choose a president, who would likely still hail from the ANC, since it remains the biggest force.

"This is the time for all of us to put South Africa first," Ramaphosa said.

ANC officials earlier on Sunday said the party was humbled by the result and had "nothing to celebrate" but stood by Ramaphosa, once Mandela's lead negotiator to end apartheid, and said they would not bend to pressure for him to step down.

The poor showing has fuelled speculation that Ramaphosa's days might be numbered, either due to the demands of a prospective coalition partner or as a result of an internal leadership challenge.

"That is a no-go area," Fikile Mbalula, the ANC's secretary general, told a press briefing, the party's first since the polls.

"Did we commit mistakes? Yes, we did. In governance and everywhere else," he said, adding that the ANC was now committed to forming a government "that is stable and that is able to govern effectively".

The ANC's leadership will meet on Tuesday to plot the path forward.

COSATU - South Africa's largest trade union group and a major ANC ally - also rallied behind Ramaphosa.

"What's key is that a coalition be led by the ANC and President Ramaphosa," COSATU spokesman Matthew Parks said.

'DOOMSDAY COALITION'

Before Wednesday's vote, the ANC had won every national election by a landslide since 1994, but over the last decade its support has waned.

The main opposition party, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), received 21.8% of votes.

uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) - "spear of the nation" in the Zulu language - a new party led by former President Jacob Zuma named after the ANC's former armed wing, managed to take 14.6%, doing most of the damage to the ANC.

Despite doing better than expected, MK said it was considering challenging the results in court.

The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, got 9.5%.

The prospect of an ANC tie-up with either the EFF or MK has rattled South Africa's business community and international investors, who would prefer a coalition that brings in the DA.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said on the party's YouTube channel that it had named a team to begin talks with other parties with the aim of preventing such an alliance, which he called a "doomsday coalition".

"For the Democratic Alliance, burying our heads in the sand while South Africa faces its greatest threat since the dawn of democracy is not an option," he said.

The small Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a conservative Zulu party with a power base in KwaZulu-Natal province that won nearly 4% of the vote, was to meet separately on Sunday to discuss its next steps.

© Reuters. Cyril Ramaphosa, Midrand, June 2, 2024. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee

Local media reported that the DA could be open to entering a cooperation pact with the ANC, supporting it in key decisions in exchange for top jobs in parliament. The IFP would also be part of such a deal.

"I would almost certainly think (the ANC) wouldn't just go with the DA. They would most probably go with somebody like the IFP as well just because of the perception that the DA is a very white party," said Melanie Verwoerd, a political analyst. 

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