South African President Cyril Ramaphosa led the African National Congress (ANC) to victory in Wednesday’s election, but a drop in its share of the vote underlines the challenge he faces restoring confidence in his party.
With opponents in the ANC and an emboldened far-left opposition party, the former union leader turned business tycoon may struggle to deliver on his promises to push through tough reforms.
Africa’s oldest liberation movement won 55.5% of the parliamentary vote, according to provisional results from 99.9% of polling districts. That was its worst parliamentary result since it swept to power at the end of white minority rule but an improvement on its showing in 2016 local elections.
Ramaphosa worked closely with South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela to end white minority rule in 1994. He replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018 after winning a bitter contest to become ANC leader and convincing top party officials to instruct Zuma to resign.
Ramaphosa’s first full presidential term should start later this month, after nomination by his party’s parliamentary caucus and an inauguration ceremony.
“We’ve made mistakes, but we are sorry about those mistakes, and we are saying our people should reinvest their confidence in us,” Ramaphosa said on Wednesday after casting his ballot in the Soweto township where he grew up.
During the campaign he had crisscrossed the country, trying to convince disillusioned voters to give the ANC another chance. Many are frustrated that huge racial disparities in income and wealth persist 25 years after the end of apartheid.
During Zuma’s nine years as president, support for the ANC dropped as economic growth faltered and the party’s reputation was tarnished by corruption scandals.
Ramaphosa’s allies say his efforts to clean up the ANC’s image are starting to bear fruit.
“Ramaphosa was a game-changer for the ANC in this campaign. Voters trust that he can do things right,” said ANC executive member Fikile Mbalula.
Some analysts say the election result means Ramaphosa will be able to fend off a potential leadership challenge from party enemies aligned with his predecessor.