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South Africa’s ANC will start coalition talks after an awkward vote

South Africa’s ruling ANC said on Sunday it would enter talks with other parties to form a new government after losing its three-decade absolute majority in a watershed election.

With 99.91 percent of the votes from Wednesday’s election counted, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress had just 40.2 percent, a catastrophic drop from the 57.5 percent it won in 2019.

“The ANC is committed to forming a government that reflects the will of the people, is stable and capable of governing effectively,” ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula said at a news conference.

“The voters of South Africa have shown that they expect the leaders of this country to work together in the interests of all,” he said.

The party must negotiate a coalition government or at least convince others to support Ramaphosa’s re-election to parliament so he can form a minority government.

Mbalula said the ANC would hold discussions internally and with other groups “in the coming days”.

It marks a historic turning point for South Africa as the party has enjoyed an absolute majority since 1994, when liberation hero Nelson Mandela led the country out of white minority rule and towards democracy.

– ‘Clear message’ –

“The results send a clear message to the ANC,” Mbalula said.

“We want to assure the people of South Africa that we have heard them. We heard their concerns, their frustrations and their dissatisfaction.”

The final results will be formally announced on Sunday, with Ramaphosa due to deliver a speech at an official ceremony near Johannesburg.

But some parties claim there are discrepancies in the number of votes.

The largest and most vocal was former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), which warned electoral authorities against going ahead with the final announcements.

“If that happens, you are provoking us,” 82-year-old Zuma said on Saturday. He claimed there were unspecified “serious” problems but provided no supporting evidence.

He said he would make a speech when the final results were announced.

Data from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) shows MK in third place with 14.59 percent, a surprising score for a party that was founded just months ago as a vehicle for the former ANC secretary-general.

But throughout the campaign, MK told supporters it would win two-thirds of the vote.

– ‘No-go area’ –

The ANC will now have to turn to opponents from the left or right to form a government.

The center-right Democratic Alliance (DA) was in second place with 21.78 percent, slightly up from 20.77 percent in 2019.

It governs the Western Cape province and has promised a free-market agenda that runs counter to the ANC’s left-wing traditions.

DA chairwoman Helen Zille said all options are on the table, including allowing the ANC to govern only as a minority government.

The radical left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was in fourth place with 9.51 percent.

Malema and Zuma are former ANC members and some observers have suggested they would be more natural partners for a governing coalition.

Other analysts said it may be difficult to meet their demands, and that the rift between Ramaphosa and Zuma – who has long been bitter about the way he was forced out of office in 2018 – is too far-reaching to repair.

MK said it would not negotiate with the ANC as long as Ramaphosa remains its leader.

But Mbalula said this was “a no-go area”.

“No political party will dictate such terms to us,” he said.

Zuma, who was forced from office in 2018 under a cloud of corruption allegations, was jailed for contempt of court in 2021, an event that sparked riots that left more than 350 people dead.

On Sunday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said security forces were ready “to ensure continued peaceful conditions after the elections,” adding that “there is no room for threats of instability.”

Speaking alongside him, Defense Minister Thandi Modise said the government had “not worked directly with the MK party” but had “called for calm during the campaign”.

“We will not tolerate anyone defiling South Africa,” Modise said.

The ANC remains respected for its leading role in overthrowing the white minority government, and its progressive policies on social welfare and black economic empowerment are credited by supporters with lifting millions of black families out of poverty.

But during three decades of virtually unchallenged rule, the country’s leadership has been involved in a series of corruption scandals as the continent’s most industrialized economy languished and crime and unemployment rates reached record highs.

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