South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, was last night facing its biggest electoral setback as it was locked in a neck and neck battle to retain control over the country's biggest cities.
The ANC and its main opposition, the Democratic Alliance, both held 42 per cent of the vote in both Johannesburg and Pretoria. The DA looked likely to take control of Port Elizabeth, an industrial hub on the southern coast and capital of the Eastern Cape, the heartland of the ANC. The opposition was also projected to cement its leadership in Cape Town and its surroundings.
The ANC had a small lead in the number of seats won in both Johannesburg and Pretoria, and its leaders said they were confident the township voting tallies would nudge them over the finish line because of residual loyalty to the party of Nelson Mandela.
Overall, the ANC held 53 per cent of the votes compared to the DA's 27 per cent. But the result marked a slide in support of the ANC from 61 per cent in the last local election in 2011 in polls widely viewed as a referendum on President Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of corruption and cronyism.
The ANC's secretary general Gwede Mantashe seemed frustrated by the erosion of his party's support, telling one interviewer: "Black people don't appreciate the value of voting." Having refused to bow to considerable pressure within the party to recall Mr Zuma, he will now face fresh calls to persuade the Zulu polygamist to hand the top job over to deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.