ANC lead firms as S.Africa vote count nears end

20th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The ruling African National Congress firmed its lead in South Africa's local elections, despite the strongest-ever showing by the opposition, as the final ballots were being counted Friday.

With 97 percent of votes counted, the ANC had claimed 61.9 percent of the ballots, with the main opposition Democratic Alliance at 24.1 percent.

Final results due Saturday weren't expected to change the overall picture, which saw support for the ruling party slip while the DA made gains, creating an increasingly two-party political landscape.

Turnout was estimated at 56.7 percent, the highest ever recorded in local polls, though still far lower than the 77 percent seen in the 2009 national elections.

In the campaigning, the ANC relied heavily on its glorious past as the party of Nelson Mandela that led the struggle against white-minority apartheid rule.

ANC leaders have threatened ancestral wrath, warned that an opposition vote was one for the devil, and said a non-ANC ballot will worsen ageing Mandela's health.

In power since Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994, the ANC's image has become tarnished by corruption scandals and its failure to provide jobs, water, electricity and housing for the poor.

Despite an explosion of protests in impoverished neighbourhoods demanding better services, those areas still sided strongly with the ANC, results showed.

The strong showing for the DA didn't shift control of any major cities away from the ANC, but the opposition strengthened its base in Cape Town, where it has ruled since 2006.

The DA, which succeeded a liberal white anti-apartheid party, actively campaigned in townships to lure new voters and shed its elitist image.

DA leader Helen Zille sang and danced at rallies, greeted supporters in Xhosa, and showcased the party's management of Cape Town as a model of good government.

She said their campaign paid off as her party had for the first time won in all-black voting districts.

"We have won, for the first time, wards with 100 percent black voters in them and that was the watershed I was looking for," she said at the election results centre in Pretoria.

But some of the party's gains came from a merger with the smaller Independent Democrats and amid dwindling support for smaller opposition parties, including the once-influential Inkatha Freedom Party.

The head of the powerful Cosatu labour federation, Zwelinzima Vavi, said he believed most South Africans weren't ready to leave the ANC, despite protests that soared in recent years.

"People will... register their unhappiness but they will not cross the floor," he said at the results centre. "No party is in trouble with 60 percent."

© 2011 AFP

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