African National Congress struggling under weight of Zuma and his growing scandals

Jacob Zuma is feeling the pressure of the ANC's poor showing at the polls. Photo / AP
Jacob Zuma is feeling the pressure of the ANC's poor showing at the polls. Photo / AP

The ruling African National Congress' historic losses in South Africa's local elections have called into question the leadership of President Jacob Zuma as head of the continent's most industrialised nation.

The ANC last week suffered what analysts called a "savage indictment", garnering less than 54 per cent of ballots cast - an eight-point drop from the last local poll in 2011 and its worst showing since the fall of white-minority rule in 1994.

Of the country's six most populous cities, the ANC won an outright majority in only one: Durban, Zuma's traditional stronghold.

But it suffered embarrassingly in the capital Pretoria where it came second to the main opposition Democratic Alliance, which also scored big in Nelson Mandela Bay, a southern municipality named after the country's iconic late leader.

The election was largely seen as a referendum on Zuma's rule, but it also highlighted the declining popularity of the party that led South Africa's anti-apartheid struggle.

And as Mandela's party reels from weak leadership and political divisions, some in the ANC admit that all is not well. "There is something wrong on a national level that we are not paying attention to," the party Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said.

Analysts say the party leadership has been stubborn in refusing to rein in its controversial President.

Zuma, who has three more years to serve out his term, has been dogged by scandal. Last month, South Africa's highest court ruled he pay back US$500,000 ($702,620) of public funds spent upgrading his private Nkandla residence with facilities including a chicken coop and a swimming pool.

The ANC has staunchly defended him. But now the party would be "much more open to a change of leadership than they would have a been one week ago," said Richard Calland, a political analyst at the University of Cape Town.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa - an anti-apartheid heavyweight - is the presumed frontrunner to replace Zuma should he be forced out before the end of his term.

Critics say urban and middle class voters have begun to tire of the continuous controversy surrounding 74-year-old Zuma.

"The ANC is in big trouble," analyst Koffi Kouakou told AFP. "The only way to perhaps attempt to save the ANC is by having President Zuma resign and having the team that surrounds him cleaned up. If not, the ANC is in real big trouble in the long term."


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