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ANC gets ‘overwhelming mandate’ from South African voters

South Africans have voted resoundingly to extend the ANC’s 20-year rule, ignoring leadership scandals and economic malaise in a wholesale display of loyalty to the party once led by Nelson Mandela.

With about three-quarters of ballots counted, the ANC had garnered a thumping 63 percent of the popular vote, spelling a parliamentary majority big enough to hand embattled President Jacob Zuma a second five-year term.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the 102-year-old party — which has held power since helping vanquish apartheid in 1994 — would ultimately receive “an overwhelming mandate” from voters.

The ANC’s status as a party of liberation was underscored by the recent 20th anniversary of democracy and the outpouring of emotion that accompanied the death of former president Mandela in December.

But the party will fall short of a two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution and will see its winning margin reduced for a second consecutive election, down from 66 percent at the last poll.

Meanwhile the main opposition party, the centrist Democratic Alliance made rapid gains, boosted by a strong urban turnout.

It’s share of the vote rose to 23 percent, up from 17 percent at the last election in 2009, and looked set to top the polls in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

DA leader Helen Zille told AFP early on Thursday that she expects the final tally to remain at 23 percent.

“We’ll see how it goes, of course we hope it will be more, we did as much as we could.”

Julius Malema’s populist Economic Freedom Fighters gained five percent of the vote, less than a year after the party was formed.

Both DA and EFF support has been bolstered by a series of scandals surrounding Zuma and frustration at rampant poverty and poor public services.

Casting his ballot in his home village of Nkandla, Zuma predicted the “results will be very good” but conceded the campaign had been “very challenging”.

Zuma has been a lightning rod for criticism of the ANC.

He came to office facing rape and corruption charges and has most recently been pilloried for spending $23 million (17 million euros) of taxpayer money to upgrade his private home.

But voters appeared to put storied party before sullied president.

“When it comes to national elections the vast majority of ANC supporters decide that their loyalty to the organisation is greater than their loyalty to its current leadership,” said political commentator Steven Friedman.

– ‘People died for this’ –

A record 25 million voters registered for the elections amid mounting anger over joblessness, inequality and corruption.

Turnout is said to be over 70 percent, including hundreds of thousands of “born free” South Africans who were registered to vote in a general election for the first time.

“People died for this right. They must not waste it,” said Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, a liberation struggle veteran who has openly said he will not vote for the ANC this time.

The eve of the ballot was marred by isolated incidents of violence, with police and 1,850 troops deployed to keep order.

In Bekkersdal near Soweto, protestors had thrown rocks at police vehicles and set fire to a polling station just hours before it was due to open.

On election day, the ANC also reported a member of its campaign staff was killed “by an opposition party member” as he sat outside a polling station in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Independent Election Commission, said a number of complaints had been lodged and were being investigated.

But, she added, “we believe the credibility of the election has not been affected.”