Clare Nullis, AP, April 24, 2009
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress neared its cherished two-thirds majority nationwide but lost power in the country’s richest province Friday because of hostility from mixed-race voters.
While it was the country’s fourth peaceful multiracial vote since the end of apartheid in 1994, the results in the Western Cape were a reminder that South Africa’s racial divides still run deep.
The province is the heart of the country’s wine and tourism industries, and also a region where mixed-race voters account for more than half the population while they are a small minority nationwide. They were treated better than blacks under apartheid’s racist rules; now many feel marginalized and forgotten.
“I voted ANC at the first elections, but never again. Never, never. They don’t look after us,” voter Desmonia Goff said.
The largely white Democratic Alliance aggressively courted mixed-race voters ahead of Wednesday’s vote and was close to gaining an outright majority in the provincial legislature there. The ANC had no hope of catching up, trailing with less than one-third of the vote, ahead of smaller opposition parties. It was a humiliating setback for the ruling party, which otherwise maintained its grip on power.
Final results were expected later Friday or early Saturday. Preliminary results from the nearly 14.5 million ballots counted so far from Wednesday’s election showed the ANC was leading the national vote with 66.91 percent and closing in on its goal of winning at least a two-thirds majority of parliament.
Parliament elects South Africa’s president by a simple majority, putting ANC leader Jacob Zuma in line for the post when the new assembly votes in May.
If the ANC fails to at least match that this year, it will be seen as a message from voters that they want some limits on the party. A two-thirds majority allows the ANC to enact major budgetary plans or legislation unchallenged, or to change the constitution.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, who has won praise for her stint as mayor of Cape Town, said ahead of the elections that her main goals were to stop the ANC’s two thirds majority and to win the Western Cape.
Hundreds of supporters–most of them mixed-race–greeted her when she returned to Cape Town Friday after monitoring election results in Pretoria. Even baggage handlers and security staff danced for joy. An airline passenger with an ANC T-shirt was loudly jeered.
Mixed race people–many of whom trace their ancestry back to Malay slaves–enjoyed more rights than blacks under apartheid’s racist rules, and emerged skeptical of the ANC, which they see as a black party. The ANC, though, has support from some mixed race South Africans and whites across South Africa, and politicians from both groups have prominent roles in the party.
Those of mixed race origin make up about half the Western Cape’s population, while black Africans comprise about 30 percent and whites about 18 percent. This is in contrast to the national picture, where blacks account for 80 percent of the population and mixed race and whites each for 9 percent.