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Opposition Party Challenges South Africa's Ruling Party In Municipal Elections


In South Africa, people are waiting for final results in municipal elections. While the final tally still is not complete, one thing is certain - the ruling African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, is suffering a major setback. And let's talk about this with reporter Peter Granitz who is in South Africa. Peter, good morning.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So the late Nelson Mandela, so incredibly beloved around the world - what was the state of his party going into these elections?

GRANITZ: Well, the party has run the country since 1994 at the presidential level, in parliament and at most of the municipalities across the country. This indicates a major shift. It's important to step back and recognize just what the ANC is. The ANC is a political party. It's also the organization that led the armed resistance to apartheid. And to many, especially the older generation and many rural residents, it's still the party of liberation.

GREENE: And so heading into this election, was it still seen as the party of liberation or were they doing something that made a setback like this, you know, appear likely?

GRANITZ: President Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa and the leader of the ANC, is largely seen as mismanaging the economy amid a downturn. The unemployment rate here is about 25 percent. It's even higher for younger people, it's about 36 percent. So people are a little tired of him. And they're a little tired of the corruption scandals that have been nagging him since he came to power.

GREENE: OK, so a lot of people still give this party credit for taking South Africa into a new direction in the 1990s. But it sounds like the president, I mean, this was really a referendum on him and what is seen as really poorly managing the country and the economy.

GRANITZ: That's exactly how the opposition parties framed it. The two main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, wanted to make the elections for mayors about the president. This is certainly seen as a referendum on him. And this is interesting because this is the first time in history that the ANC will have dipped below 60 percent nationally since 1994, since democracy began. That's a big deal. And we need to look at where the ANC is losing.

They will lose Nelson Mandela Bay. I mean, that's an obvious embarrassment because of the name. And it's a stinging defeat there because it's a region that's wildly important to the history of the ANC. It's the region that Mandela came from, where Govan Mbeki came from, the father of one president, Tabo Mbeki. It's still too early to call, but it looks like the ANC will lose its outright majority in Johannesburg, the economic driver of the country. It's also where the ANC is headquartered. And in Pretoria, where I am, the ANC can lose its outright majority here. It's the capital, where President Jacob Zuma reports to work every day.

GREENE: So, Peter, it sounds like a lot of people just wanting change after one party has ruled for so long. But is Nelson Mandela's legacy in danger here?

GRANITZ: No, it's not. In fact, in the final days of the campaign, the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, and the ANC were fighting over Mandela's legacy. But Mandela's a revered figure here by so many. And his legacy is not at risk of being tarnished by the current leadership of the ANC.

GREENE: All right, we've been speaking to reporter Peter Granitz, talking to us about the municipal elections in South Africa. Peter, thanks very much.

GRANITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.