Thursday, April 23, 2009



By Muchena Zigomo
PRETORIA (Reuters)

South Africa's ruling ANC was headed for victory on Thursday in an election that will give party leader Jacob Zuma control of the continent's biggest economy as it teeters on the brink of recession.

Early results showed the African National Congress with 60 percent support, defying some predictions the new Congress of the People (COPE) party formed by ANC dissidents would pose the first real challenge since white minority rule ended in 1994.

Zuma portrays himself as a champion of the poor, and for many voters the ANC's anti-apartheid credentials still outweigh frustrations with its failure to tackle widespread crime, poverty and AIDS.

"I voted for the ANC out of loyalty because my father was active in the struggle, but I'm not satisfied with what they've done," Margaret Nkoane, 57, said in Soweto, the Johannesburg township that symbolized the anti-apartheid struggle.

"People expected jobs but they are still living in shacks."

COPE won only 7.6 percent of the early votes counted. The biggest challenge came from the Democratic Alliance -- led by a white woman -- with 21.4 percent.

The final result is not expected before Friday but there is little doubt the 67-year-old Zuma will become president only three weeks after managing to get prosecutors to drop an eight-year-old corruption case that had tainted his reputation.


Among his first tasks will be reassuring foreign investors who fear his trade union allies will push him toward the left.

He has repeatedly said there will be no nasty surprises in store for investors, and with the economy possibly already in recession, his room for policy maneuver is limited.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a market favorite, is expected to stay for now.

Zuma has also pledged to tackle the rampant violent crime which could mar next year's hosting of the soccer World Cup.

Election officials estimated the turnout in Wednesday's vote at 76 percent -- the same as 2004, when the ANC won 70 percent of the vote.

Most analysts see that figure slipping, possibly below the two-thirds majority that would allow the ANC to change the constitution and further entrench its grip on power.

"We are entering a post-liberation era. People are talking about new issues and challenges and there's also a new generation that's not attached to the liberation struggle," said independent political analyst David Monyae.

Police said the election was largely peaceful, although COPE said one of its officials was shot dead in what it believed to be a political killing.

The rand currency was largely steady as votes came in.