The African National Congress celebrated its victory in national elections in South Africa on Saturday, though official results underlined the huge task facing the president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
The 66-year-old former labour activist and tycoon, who took power last year, had called on voters to back his efforts to root out graft and incompetence within the ruling party, and push through measures to boost South Africa’s flagging economy.
The formal announcement of the results came at 18.30 local time in a ceremony in Pretoria, the administrative capital.
The chief electoral officer, Sy Mamabolo, said the elections had been difficult to organise but the nation had shown the world that, despite differences, it could unite.
“The elections were a tribute to the people of South Africa who continue to show an unquenchable hunger for democracy,” Mamabolo said.
The final results put the ANC on 57.5%, the first time the party’s share has fallen below 60% in national elections since the country’s first free polls in 1994. The ANC won with almost 70% of the vote in 2004 and 62% in 2014.
Some analysts described it as a “decent performance” that could help Ramaphosa push through changes.
However, others believe the score falls short of a resounding endorsement of the president and believe Ramaphosa will still struggle to take on factions within the ANC that oppose his leadership and reformist agenda. Party officials have spoken of a “moral crisis” within the party.
The ANC’s head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, told reporters on Thursday night that if Ramaphosa had not ousted his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, as leader of both the party and the nation during a fierce three-month struggle for power in late 2017 and early 2018, the ANC might have polled as low as 40%. Zuma’s nine-year rule was marked by sharp economic decline and a series of corruption scandals.
The centre-right opposition party failed to make major gains, polling 20.77%. The radical left Economic Freedom Fighters, founded six years ago by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was in third place with 10.79% – up four percentage points on 2014.
“The ANC are being given a chance,” said political analyst Lumkile Mondi. “This is an opportunity for them to reincarnate themselves.”
Some of the best results for the ANC came at a provincial level. The party held on to eight provinces.
This included a narrow victory on Gauteng, the wealthiest province that includes the major cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria where the ANC lost ground in municipal elections in 2016.
South Africa’s economy grew just 0.8% in 2018 and official unemployment hovers around 27% – and is over 50% among young people.
Many voters are angry at failing services, corruption, high crime levels and a failure to act against corrupt officials.
About 26.8 million people were registered to vote on Wednesday, of whom 65% turned out.