South Africa’s leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) made historic strides in that country’s national and provincial elections this week, reaching record high of 22% support nationally and nearly 60% in the Western Cape province, where it governs. However, the DA failed to break through the 30 percent barrier or to push the ruling African National Congress (ANC) below 60 percent. The ANC finished with over 62%.
DA leader Helen Zille, who also serves as premier of the Western Cape, can take pride in a resounding verdict of approval on her party’s performance in government, after winning a slim majority of just 51% five years ago. However, the DA’s campaign to win beyond its regional stronghold faltered, particularly in Gauteng, South Africa’s most important economic hub, where the DA fell well short of challenging the ANC for power.
The other big story of the election, with nearly all of the results counted, is the relatively strong performance of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of radical Julius Malema. The EFF exceeded 6% of the vote and topped one million votes, meaning that it will bring roughly twenty of its members to the National Assembly, making it the third-largest opposition party. While still a small bloc, the EFF caucus could prove a basis for future growth.
Other small opposition parties fared far less well. Over the 20 years of South Africa’s post-apartheid elections, the consistent trend has been the rise of the DA, from less than 2% in 1994 to its current political strength.
The ANC will almost certainly return President Jacob Zuma to power when the new Parliament convenes, in spite of widespread public dissatisfaction with corruption, administrative incompetence and police brutality.