Support for South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party fell below 50% in local elections this week for the first time since the end of apartheid.
Results announced on Thursday for several of Monday’s municipal wards showed the ANC received about 46% of the 12.3 million votes cast across the country. The ANC has not received such little support since it became the country’s dominant party in 1994.
The party still holds a majority in 161 municipalities, compared to 13 for the opposition Democratic Alliance and 10 for the Inkatha Freedom Party. In 66 other municipalities no party won control – in those areas the ANC would be forced to form a coalition to take power.
The ANC has faced widespread criticism because many of the municipalities it operates are insolvent and mostly fail to provide basic services.
In an interview with VOA, former member of parliament for the main opposition Democratic Alliance, Sheila Camerer, said her party’s platform rests on better local governance.
Citing results in Midval Local Municipality in Gauteng, where the DA won more than 70% of the vote, he said, “We sent a message to voters that the city works when the DA is in charge.”
“We’re not like the ANC,” she said. “We’re not corrupt, and we don’t let everything fall apart.”
ANC leaders downplayed this week’s results, saying it did not reflect a larger trend.
“Early results suggest that we will have more hung councils than in previous local elections,” ANC acting general secretary Jesse Duarte said at the Center for the Independent Elections Commission in Tshwane.
“This would require alliances or other forms of cooperation with other political structures,” he said. “It’s nothing new. We’ve done this since 1994.”
However, forming multiple alliances can be a formidable challenge for the ANC.
A growing number of leaders of smaller political parties, such as Action SA’s Harman Mashba, are intent on isolating the ruling party.
“Action SA will not go into alliance with the ANC,” he said.
Freedom Front Plus, a conservative, almost exclusively white African party, doubled its share of the vote this week to five and a half percent compared to 2016.
Party leader Peter Groenewald said he hoped to become a potential kingmaker in many municipalities.
“We are available as far as the alliance is concerned,” he said, but added that the party would not join an alliance with the ANC.
But some leaders of the minority party said that joining an alliance with the ANC may work in their favour.
The Economic Freedom Fighters’ Party received more than 10% of the vote this week, and in some wards, the party received the third-highest number of votes.
Deputy leader Floyd Shivambu said the party would keep “anyone” in power, including the ANC, if it meant achieving leadership positions for EFF officials.
“EFF now wants to be part of the government,” he said.
The ANC’s Duterte was unwilling to say which parties the ANC was willing to work with or what the ANC would be willing to offer them in exchange for staying on top of major cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Nelson Mandela Bay.
“The ANC’s approach to the alliance is based on principle, not expediency, and guided by the spirit, mandate and interest of the electorate,” he said.
VOA’s Peter Clotti contributed to this report.