South Africa's ANC loses majority, needs allies

Leftist firebrand Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won less than 10 percent of the vote, but are ready to negotiate with the ruling ANC on forming a coalition government (Phill Magakoe)
Leftist firebrand Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won less than 10 percent of the vote, but are ready to negotiate with the ruling ANC on forming a coalition government (Phill Magakoe)

South Africa's ruling ANC faced a search for allies to form a new government Saturday after losing its three-decade-old absolute majority in a watershed election, as some rivals questioned the results.

With 99.85 percent of the votes from Wednesday's election counted, President Cyril Ramaphosa's African National Congress had only 40 percent, a catastrophic slump from the 57.5 it won in 2019.

This marks a historic turning point for South Africa as the party has enjoyed an absolute majority since 1994, when liberation hero Nelson Mandela led the nation out of white-minority rule and into democracy.

The ANC must now negotiate a coalition government or at least persuade other parties to back Ramaphosa's re-election in parliament to allow him to form a minority administration reliant on other groups for support to pass budgets and legislation.

"We have been talking with everybody even before the election," the ANC's deputy secretary general Nomvula Mokonyane said, adding that the party's NEC decision-making body would meet to decide on a course of action after final results are announced.

The final results were to be formally announced on Sunday, with Ramaphosa due to deliver an address during an official ceremony near Johannesburg.

- 'Trouble' -

But some parties have alleged discrepancies in the vote count.

The largest and most vocal was former president Jacob Zuma's uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), which warned electoral authorities against going ahead with the final announcements.

"If that happens you are going to be provoking us," Zuma, 82, told a press conference, complaining about unspecified "serious" issues and providing no supporting evidence.

"Don't start trouble when there is no trouble," he said.

Zuma's jailing for contempt of court in July 2021 triggered unrest that left more than 350 dead.

Data from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) showed MK in third place on 14.5 percent, a surprise score for a party founded just months ago as a vehicle for the former ANC chief.

But throughout the campaign MK told supporters it was going to win two-thirds of the vote.

MK's spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela said the party had asked for a recount and was considering demanding a "total revote".

IEC chairman Mosotho Moepya said the commission was going to look at "everything that is before us" and had ordered recounts in 24 instances.

"The commission will be ready to announce the results of these elections tomorrow," he said, adding the body would act without fear, favour or prejudice.

The centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA) held second place with 21.81 percent, slightly up on its 20.77 showing in 2019.

The party governs Western Cape province and has promised a free-market agenda at odds with the ANC's left-wing traditions.

Asked about the chances of a coalition with the ANC, Helen Zille, the DA party chairwoman, said: "Negotiations haven't started but some channels have been opened, individuals talking to individuals."

She also did not rule out allowing the ANC to attempt to rule alone, telling AFP: "A minority government would be something completely new in South Africa but it is an option."

The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was in fourth with 9.5 percent.

- Too erratic? -

Malema and Zuma are former ANC members and some observers have suggested they would be more natural partners for the ruling coalition, a prospect the DA has branded the "Doomsday Coalition".

But other analysts, including author Susan Booysen, said the EFF was perceived as "too erratic" and "unpredictable" in its demands.

And the rift between Ramaphosa and Zuma -- who has long been bitter about the way he was forced out of office in 2018 -- was "too far reaching" to mend, she said.

The MK's Ndhlela has said the party would not engage in negotiations with "the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa".

Malema said his EFF was ready to talk about a coalition, but would insist on land reform to take South Africa's vast farms, many of them owned by members of the white minority, into public ownership.

"We are not desperate, and we will not compromise on our demands and principles," he told reporters.

"We want to work with the ANC... when the ANC is compromised, they are not arrogant, you can work with them."

Among those most pleased with the results was Gayton McKenzie, leader of the far-right Patriotic Alliance which won a surprising two percent of the vote, with a hard stance against immigration.

Other groups had already reached out, asking to "meet with us from tonight", he said. "When power goes you work with everyone."

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