Zuma’s warmth and rise from poverty to political prominence have drawn adoring crowds throughout the election campaign, although critics question whether he can implement his populist agenda amid the global economic meltdown.
Preliminary results from the 8.42 million ballots counted so far showed Zuma’s ANC party leading the vote with 66.71%. Parliament elects South Africa’s president by a simple majority, putting Zuma in line for the post when the new assembly votes in May.
A record 23 million South Africans registered to vote. A 77% turnout has been recorded at those polling stations where counting has finished. Polling officials estimated a final turnout of about 80%. Final results were expected late last night or possibly today.
Several thousand of Zuma’s supporters, though, were not waiting to begin the celebrations, gathering in downtown Johannesburg late yesterday where Zuma was to address the crowd later. People were dancing and breaking out the noisemakers and barbecues.
Some waved yellow flags with “Zuma 4 president” in bold black, while others broke out with Zuma’s signature anti-apartheid song Umshini Wami, or Bring Me My Machine Gun.
Te Ngubane, 52, a clerk at a police station, said she felt South Africa’s previous government hadn’t listened to people like her.
“We trust Zuma because he is straight. He doesn’t go like this,” she said rolling her hand in front of her chest as if it were a snake.
The ANC views Zuma as the first leader who can energise voters since the legendary Nelson Mandela. But others say Zuma is too beholden to unions and leftists, and will not be able to fulfill his promises of creating jobs and a stronger social safety net. At the end of the campaign, Zuma was talking not about creating jobs, but staving off job losses.
“We are expecting a lot — many houses, schools, jobs,” said Precious Mosiane, 25, who is unemployed and looking for work. “We are aware that the economy is in trouble, but we are going to make sure” the government fulfills its promises.
Though victory was expected for the ANC, the party has been less sure of whether it can hold onto its two-thirds majority.
The opposition Democratic Alliance, according to the preliminary count, had about 16%. It was expected to take South Africa’s richest province, the Western Cape, from the ANC. The Congress of the People — formed by a breakaway faction of the ANC last year — was trailing with about 8% in preliminary results, despite expectations it would pose a serious challenge to the governing party.