South Africa local elections: ANC suffers major setback

South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) has suffered its worst electoral setback since apartheid ended in 1994.

With 92% of the votes counted after Wednesday’s municipal elections, the party has lost the key battleground of Nelson Mandela Bay to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

The two parties are in a close fight for Johannesburg and Pretoria.

But the ANC is still in the lead nationally, with 54% of the vote.

The ANC has won more than 60% of the vote at every election since the end of apartheid more than two decades ago.

Unemployment and corruption scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma have tarnished the ANC’s image.

South African political analyst Ranjeni Munusamy says the loss of Nelson Mandela Bay, named after ANC liberation hero and South Africa’s first democratically elected President Nelson Mandela, is a blow from which the party will never recover.

“If you ask people in Nelson Mandela Bay what they voted for they said, ‘We voted for change,'” DA leader Mmusi Maimane said.

“I think that to me says that our message got through – it says our people heard us and South Africans still believe in a dream of a non-racial South Africa, South Africans still want our country to prosper.”

Earlier he told the BBC: “The ANC failed to enthuse their voters and give them a credible offer and that is what often happens to parties that have mismanaged the economy, mismanaged the city, but it also says that we are growing as a party.”

Final results are expected later on Friday.

By Friday morning, the ANC had 54%, followed by 26% for the Democratic Alliance and 7% for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The local elections are being seen as an indication of the mid-term popularity of President Zuma.

Correspondents say a poor ANC performance could embolden Mr Zuma’s rivals within the party to challenge him.

The next general elections are due in 2019 but Mr Zuma cannot stand for a third term as president.

South Africa’s economy has also been one of the main issues for voters, with growth expected to be zero this year, and unemployment standing at 27%.

Protests demanding better housing and amenities have sprung up across South Africa.

Mr Zuma has also had to weather a corruption scandal, after being ordered to repay taxpayers’ money spent on his private home.

Security was tight for the elections and the electoral commission said voting had passed off smoothly.