South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged that his African National Congress (ANC) party faced a challenging election, resulting in the loss of its parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of apartheid 30 years ago.

The ANC, historically led by Nelson Mandela, secured 159 seats in the 400-seat parliament in Wednesday’s election, down from 230 in the previous assembly. Despite this setback, Mr. Ramaphosa framed the results as a victory for democracy and urged rival parties to find common ground, signaling the beginning of coalition talks.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, which holds 87 seats, expressed openness to coalition discussions but opposed several of the ANC’s key policies. The ANC garnered 40% of the vote, down from 58% in the previous election, necessitating a coalition to form the next government.

“Our people have spoken,” Mr. Ramaphosa stated. “As leaders, we must respect their wishes and find common ground. Their votes show that our democracy is strong and enduring.” South Africa’s political parties aim to negotiate a coalition deal within two weeks before the new parliament convenes.

The DA, led by John Steenhuisen, emphasized the need to set aside narrow interests and collaborate for the country’s good. However, the party opposes the ANC’s black empowerment policies and the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, both of which the ANC considers non-negotiable in coalition talks.

Former president Jacob Zuma, now leading the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, which won 58 seats, did not attend the results announcement and hinted at challenging the results. The MK party is open to working with the ANC but not under Mr. Ramaphosa’s leadership. Zuma, replaced by Ramaphosa following a power struggle in 2018, called for an election rerun, alleging electoral fraud.

Concerns are growing over the potential response from Zuma’s supporters. The MK party, dominant in KwaZulu-Natal with 44% of the vote compared to the ANC’s 19%, capitalized on local issues such as acute water shortages. Residents in areas like Trenance Park have endured months without tap water, relying on unreliable water tankers.

Police Minister Bheki Cele warned against threats of destabilization, emphasizing that electoral process objections should not lead to instability. The ANC’s decline in support is attributed to high levels of corruption, unemployment, and crime, leading to frustration among the “Born Free” generation—those born after apartheid ended in 1994—who feel the political transformation has not been matched by economic progress.

Patrick Gaspard, former US ambassador to South Africa, highlighted that the ANC’s downward trajectory was evident as early as 2015 due to its failure to deliver essential services, including stable electricity supply.

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Piers Potter


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