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ANC faces worst result as South Africans rebuke Zuma

South Africans have sent a message to the ruling African National Congress in local elections. Partial results show falling support for the ANC, the party that ended apartheid.

The ruling African National Congress

looks set to lose control of three cities after voters

punished the party

for corruption, high unemployment and poor public services. The Democratic Alliance appears on course to hold Cape Town and leads slightly in the Nelson Mandela Bay city of Port Elizabeth, which the ANC had held for two decades. And Johannesburg and Pretoria appear too close to call between the ANC and DA.

"Democracy is maturing so you will find ... a dilution where you might not have very strong support for one party," ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize said with results not yet final.

The ANC had topped 60 percent in every election since 1994, when black people were first allowed to participate in South Africa's democracy. That year saw

the anti-apartheid revolutionary Mandela

inaugurated as president.

'I'm quite happy'

An estimated 58 percent of eligible voters in the country of 54 million

cast ballots on Wednesday

. A final pre-election Ipsos survey had placed the ANC and DA neck and neck in key cities.

The ANC had 54 percent late Thursday, down from 62 percent in the 2011 municipal elections. The DA - which has fought its image as a party that works for the white and wealthy in a country that is 80 percent black, but where whites continue to hold much of the land and wealth - held 27 percent and has ruled out regional coalitions with the ANC.

"We have grown incredibly in several places," Mmusi Maimane, the DA's first black leader, told reporters on Thursday. "I'm quite happy." He added that the party would not enter into any local coalition deals with ANC: "We can't campaign for change and then team up with them."

Led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, the Economic Freedom Fighters - who accuse major parties of selling South Africa to corporations and advocate land redistribution and nationalizing mines - had 7 percent. Should the results require the formation of municipal coalitions, the EFF, contesting its first local polls after taking 6 percent in its general elections debut in 2014, could prove the kingmaker.

Wednesday's vote functioned in part as a referendum on

Jacob Zuma

, the scandal-plagued 74-year-old president, who survived impeachment in April and has faced calls from within the ANC to resign ahead of the 2019 election, in which he cannot run after two terms. In the municipal elections, the ANC even lost Zuma's hometown of Nkandla in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, where the Inkatha Freedom Party won.

Since Zuma took office in 2009, an unemployment rate of 27 percent has eaten into his popularity. Harsh socioeconomic divisions remain a grim legacy of the apartheid era.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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