The ruling African National Congress was heading for victory in South Africa’s fifth post-apartheid election last night, handing president Jacob Zuma the clout to push through pro-business reforms in the face of union and left-wing opposition.
It has been dubbed the “Born Free” election, as it is the first in which South Africans born after apartheid ended in 1994 have been of voting age.
The scandal-plagued Mr Zuma, burdened with sluggish economic growth and damaging strikes in his first term, has devoted less time over the past year to the wishes of unions, whose long walkouts have hit confidence in Africa’s most developed economy.
He has also batted away opposition from the far left, quashing some predictions that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – led by his former protege Julius Malema – would ride a wave of populist anger over widespread poverty and unemployment.
The ANC, which swept to power two decades ago under Nelson Mandela, had won 63.7 per cent of the vote with nearly two-thirds of districts counted.
“With this, he is much less beholden to the Left,” political analyst Nic Borain said, adding he expected Mr Zuma to appoint a technocrat cabinet to roll out policies to boost growth. “The bottom line is that by 2019 they are going to have to be growing this economy and making sure they can still raise tax revenue.”
Mr Zuma hinted this week the ANC needed to take a more pro-business tack, accusing the main platinum union of irresponsibility for dragging out a four-month wage strike, and he hinted at reforms in the pipeline. “We need an overwhelming majority so that we can change certain things, so that we can move faster,” he said. “There are things you need to remove so you can move faster. I won’t be specific.”
One minister said the ANC would focus on policies adopted at a 2012 conference, when it rejected “wholesale nationalisation” and sought to quell investor concerns with business-friendly pronouncements.
Public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba said: “The policies of the new coming government, the principles that will provide the framework for the new administration, have already been set out. That is what we are going to implement.”
The ANC’s nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, was on 22.1 per cent, upholding poll predictions the party would improve on the 16.7 per cent it won five years ago as it gradually sheds its image as the political home of privileged minority whites.
The EFF, launched by Mr Malema after he was expelled from the ANC in 2012, was in third place, on 4.9 per cent. Turnout was high and voting passed off smoothly, although the ANC said one of its members had been shot dead outside a polling station in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Mr Zuma’s home province.
Polls ahead of the election had put ANC support near 65 per cent, a touch below the 65.9 per cent it won in 2009.
Its popularity has confounded those who had expected its support to wane as voters focused on the sluggish growth and slew of scandals that have typified Mr Zuma’s first term. South Africa’s anti-corruption agency has accused him of “benefiting unduly” from a £13.5 million state-funded security upgrade to his private home in KwaZulu-Natal that included a swimming pool and chicken run. Mr Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.