With over 95 percent of votes counted in South Africa's local elections, the ANC appears to be on track for its worst electoral blow since the end of apartheid. The main opposition has won a key municipality.
Voters disenchanted with two decades of rule by the African National Congress (ANC) have slashed its overall support to 54 percent from its once consistent 60-plus percent, according to nearly complete results from Wednesday's local elections.
Although the ANC was still ahead in the overall count, the party was forced to concede defeat to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the municipality of Nelson Mandela Bay, which includes the city of Port Elizabeth.
The DA also had a narrow lead in the economic hub of Johannesburg, while the two parties were neck and neck in Tshwane, the metropolitan area of the capital, Pretoria. The three urban centers have traditionally been held by the ANC. It now looks as though no party will win a majority in those areas.
The DA retained control of Cape Town, which it has held since 2006, and scored 26 percent of the overall vote across the country.
New era of coalition politics
Analysts said the ANC looked set to lose its one-party rule, ushering in a new era of coalition politics ahead of the 2019 general elections, with a majority of black voters frustrated by persistent inequality.
Final results are expected on Saturday.
ANC second place in Zuma's hometown
In another symbolic loss, the ANC dropped to second place in Nkandla, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial hometown of scandal-tainted President Jacob Zuma, who is not allowed to stand again after serving two terms.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, Zuma's one-time protege, was on 8 percent nationwide.
Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni described the fall in ANC support as "dramatic, in levels never seen before," notably among the urban middle class.
"All of this points at Zuma: Ultimately the buck stops with him," Fikeni said, adding that "his name keeps featuring in major political scandals."
Gary van Staden, an analyst with NKC African Economics, said that "national issues, national policy failures, featured significantly in voter decisions on Wednesday."
Zero economic growth, joblessness
South Africa's unemployment rate is currently 27 percent, alongside GDP growth at zero percent, crumbling education and health systems and persistent crime.
Turnout in Wednesday's election was about 58 percent overall as voters chose mayors and councilors on issues such as clean water, sanitation and power supplies.
In South Africa's 2014 general election, the ANC received 62 percent, down from nearly 66 percent in 2009.
ipj,nm/kl (AFP, Reuters, dpa)