Since 1994, when Nelson Mandela led South Africa out of apartheid and into real democracy, his African National Congress party has won every election with over 60 percent of the vote — until now. In local elections Thursday, the ANC got a mere 55 percent of the vote with 96 percent of the votes counted, eight points below their previous total, and suffered much larger declines in some urban areas. For the first time the ANC lost control of a majority-black city in Nelson Mandela Bay. They may yet lose in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, and Pretoria, its capital (results are still too close to call).
The ANC has struggled with corruption and incompetence since the end of Mandela's single term as president in 1999, but loyalty and patronage networks kept voters in the party. But Mandela died in 2013, and more and more young voters have no memory of the apartheid years. Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance, which pulled in 26 percent, has worked hard to shed its image as a whites and mixed-race only party, catering to black voters and selecting a young black leader, Mmusi Maimane. The radical Economic Freedom Fighters party, which only dates to 2013, pulled in 8 percent of the vote. On current trends, the next general election in 2019 may be the first competitive one in South Africa history. Ryan Cooper