The African National Congress lost its stranglehold on South African politics as voter discontent over a struggling economy, a scarcity of jobs and scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma handed it the worst performance in an election since Nelson Mandela swept it to power in 1994.

The ANC’s support dropped to 54.5 percent in an Aug. 3 local government election from 62.2 percent in a national vote two years ago. It was relegated to the second-biggest party in the capital, Pretoria, and southern city of Port Elizabeth, and gave up outright majorities in financial center, Johannesburg, and its industrial hub neighbor Ekurhuleni. The party now controls by itself only three of the country’s eight metropolitan areas.

“The ANC has its back against the wall,” Zamikhaya Maseti, an independent political analyst, said in Pretoria on Saturday. “We can see the trends, that from 2009 it’s going downhill. South Africans are tired of a party that can’t deal with scandals involving the president.”

The ANC has struggled to meet its pledge to reduce a 27 percent unemployment rate and income inequality, as low commodity prices, a weak global economy and power shortages constrained growth. The central bank expects the economy to stagnate this year and the nation is at risk of having its credit rating cut to junk by S&P Global Ratings in December.

‘Huge Setback’

Zuma, 74, has been widely criticized since his decision to fire a respected finance minister in December caused a sell-off in the rand and nation’s bonds. The highest court ruled in March that he violated the constitution by refusing to repay taxpayer funds used to upgrade his private home. The ANC’s former head of intelligence, who has led Africa’s most-industrialized economy since May 2009, has fended off calls from within the party to resign with the backing of his allies who control its national executive committee.

The president’s televised speech at the presentation of the final results on Saturday was disrupted by the EFF walking out and by a group of women staging a silent protest with posters bearing the pseudonym of a woman who accused Zuma of rape 11 years ago. He was acquitted of the charges in 2006.

The ANC has itself to blame for its decline because it became mired in infighting and neglected its supporters, according to Somadoda Fikeni, a political analyst at the University of South Africa.

“The ANC is at a crossroads of either renewing itself through deep introspection or literally speeding the process of its decline,” he said in an interview in Pretoria.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane speaks at the Independent Electoral Commission on Aug. 6.

Photographer: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

The winners in the election were the Democratic Alliance, whose share of the national vote rose to 27 percent from 22.2 in 2014 and is now the biggest party in three cities, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, which won 8.2 percent support, up from 6.3 percent. Including voting for ward councilors, the ANC had 53.9 percent support and the DA 26.9 percent, according to the results from Independent Electoral Commission.

While the DA’s pro-business policies are poles apart from those of the EFF, which wants to nationalize mines and banks, the two parties may pair up to control hung councils if they follow through on their pledge not to partner with the ANC.

‘Headless Chickens’

“The leadership of the ANC is running around like headless chickens; they do not know whether they are coming or going,” EFF leader Julius Malema told reporters in Pretoria on Friday. “We are not prepared to speak to the ANC or engage in any form of coalition with the ANC, but you all know that we exist in a democratic country. We cannot close our ears when we are spoken to by anyone.”

For a Quicktake explainer on why the ANC is losing voter support, click here

The DA won 43.3 percent support in Tshwane, the municipality that includes Pretoria, to the ANC’s 41.4 percent and 11.5 percent for the EFF. In Johannesburg, the ruling party had 45 percent of the vote, the DA 38.4 percent and the EFF 10.9 percent.

While the ANC remained the biggest party in Ekurhuleni, a manufacturing hub to the east of Johannesburg which includes the nation’s main airport, with 48.8 percent, it dropped behind the DA in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, a vehicle manufacturing region that includes Port Elizabeth. The DA extended its majority in Cape Town.

For a table of the latest results, click here

The rand gained as the results showed the ANC losing ground, which may press the party to introduce economic reforms. It was the best performer against the dollar on Thursday of 24 emerging markets currencies tracked by Bloomberg. The cost of insuring South Africa’s debt against non-payment for five years, using credit-default swaps, fell 18 basis points since Aug. 3 to the lowest level since October.

Performance Reflection

The 104-year-old ANC will address voter concerns and bounce back, said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a leading contender to succeed Zuma as the party’s president when his current term ends late next year. South Africa is due to hold its next national elections in 2019.

“We are a party that’s not going away from the body politic of this country,” Ramaphosa told reporters in Pretoria. “We learn from our mistakes.”

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