South Africa’s governing African National Congress has been defeated by the opposition Democratic Alliance in local polls in the capital Pretoria.
The DA took 43 per cent of the vote, compared with the ANC’s 41 per cent in Tshwane, the municipality that includes Pretoria. The DA will need to form a coalition in order to secure control there.
The two major parties are also locked in a tight race to control the country’s largest city, Johannesburg.
The ANC has also lost Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area in the Eastern Cape, which includes Port Elizabeth, to the DA.
It is the ANC’s worst electoral performance since it was elected to power at the end of apartheid and the replacement of white minority rule by democracy in 1994, and the first time since then that it has lost control of the capital.
The DA has won 93 seats in Tshwane, while the ANC is second with 89 seats in the 214-seat municipal council.
Observers said a host of corruption scandals and internal party squabbles were to blame for the ANC’s decline.
The South African economy has stagnated since 2008’s global financial crisis, and the country has one of the highest rates of economic inequality in the world.
Revelations that upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home were funded with vast sums of public money caused an outcry. The Constitutional Court recently instructed Zuma to reimburse the state £390,000.
The opposition DA, which has roots in the anti-apartheid movement and was white-led until last year, won Nelson Mandela Bay after fielding a white candidate for mayor. The party already runs the country’s second largest city, Cape Town, the only major South African city where blacks are not in the majority. It has been pushing hard to win supporters in other regions, saying its brand is good governance.
The party’s leader, 36-year-old Mmusi Maimane, had predicted victory in Tshwane.
“For far too long the ANC has governed South Africa with absolute impunity,” Maimane told reporters. He said the idea that his party was a white one has been “completely shattered”.
Maimane immediately looked ahead to presidential elections. He said: “The 2019 campaign starts now.”
A more radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, contested the local elections for the first time and received 8 per cent of the vote nationwide after promising measures to help the poor.
The ANC retained support in many rural areas in a country where blacks make up 80 per cent of the population. Even so, the results for the ANC could put pressure on 74-year-old Zuma to leave office before his mandate ends in 2019.
The South African economy has stagnated since the global financial crisis in 2008, and the World Bank says the country has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world.
Scandals swirling around Zuma have also hurt the ANC. Opposition groups have also claimed he is too heavily influenced by wealthy Indian business family, the Guptas.