ANC faces setback in local elections
South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), appears to be headed for its biggest electoral blow since it won power at the end of the apartheid era 22 years ago.
With 95pc of votes counted in municipal elections, the results remained too close to call in the country's largest city, Johannesburg, and the Tshwane metropolitan area around the capital, Pretoria.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is challenging the ANC in both municipalities.
Neither party appears to be winning a majority in those two cities such as would allow it to govern alone, raising the possibility of a coalition government.
The ANC lost a key municipality named after its icon, Nelson Mandela Bay, to the Democratic Alliance. The DA already runs Cape Town, the only major South African city where blacks are not in the majority, and has been pushing hard to win supporters in other regions.
The ANC, formerly the leading anti-apartheid movement, has lost support from people who say their hopes for economic opportunities have not been fulfilled since the end of white minority rule.
The economy has stagnated since the global crisis in 2008.
South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC, acknowledged some criticisms of the ruling party, admitting: "They think that we are arrogant and self-centred, self-serving. I'd like to dispute all of that and say we are a listening organisation."
In a statement, the ANC said: "We will reflect and introspect on where our support has dropped."
The party has so far received 54pc of votes across the country, with the DA getting 26pc.
Scandals swirling around president Jacob Zuma have also hurt the ANC.
Opposition groups have seized on a scandal over state upgrades to his private home.
The Constitutional Court recently said he had violated the constitution and instructed him to reimburse the state.
Many South Africans are also concerned over allegations that Mr Zuma is heavily influenced by the Guptas, a wealthy business family of immigrants from India.
The president has denied any wrongdoing.
A more radical opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, contested the local elections for the first time.
The party, which advocates the nationalisation of industry and other measures that it says will help the poor, has almost 8pc of the vote nationwide.
The ANC's secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, seemed frustrated by the erosion of his party's support, telling one interviewer: "Black people don't appreciate the value of voting."
Having refused to bow to considerable pressure within the party to recall Mr Zuma, he will now face fresh calls to persuade the Zulu polygamist to hand over the top job to his Mr Rampahosa.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the DA, hailed "a start towards change in South Africa" and said he was confident that his party stood a good chance of ousting the ANC in national elections in 2019.
Meanwhile, the discovery of hundreds of marked ballot papers, most of them marked in favour of the ANC, in a tent behind the electoral centre in Port Elizabeth threatened to derail an already tense process.
With police and election officials scrambling to determine whether the votes had been included in the overall tally, there were calls for a recount.
Siyasanga Sijadu, a representative of Cope, an ANC breakaway party which had votes in its favour among the ballots, said elections should be run freely and fairly.
"It should not be about wanting to be powerful for 22 years. This is utter nonsense. It is ridiculous. These are our votes here," she said.
Mr Maimane said the true test of South Africa's young democracy would be the response of its political leaders and their followers in the coming days as the results are confirmed.
"It's a start towards change in South Africa, the fact that we can see the project of democracy will succeed," he said. "But the real test will be if people don't accept the results, then you can have other problems."
(© Daily Telegraph, London)