World Bulletin / News Desk
However, despite being in prime position, the ANC risks losing control of some major urban areas, like the capital city Pretoria where its Democratic Alliance (DA) rival polled almost 50 percent of the vote, while the ruling party won just 38.76 percent.
According to preliminary results released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Thursday morning, the ANC has won 21 councils, securing 1,038 seats with six million votes.
The main opposition DA won control of five councils, getting 412 seats after securing more than three million votes.
South Africa’s leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – contesting a local election for the first time since it was founded three years ago – acquired 21 seats across all councils nationally.
Several political parties took part but the competition has been narrowed down to the ANC, DA and EFF.
The DA was also leading in Johannesburg, garnering 43.62 percent while the ANC got 40.85 percent, with the leftist EFF trailing on 9.83 percent.
A close race between the ruling party and the main opposition is also expected in other major cities.
Experts have described these elections as the most hotly contested local polls in post-apartheid South Africa.
More than 26 million voters registered to cast their ballots, according to the Independent Electoral Commission.
Unemployment – which stands at 27 percent – lack of housing, service delivery and corruption were some of the major issues that dominated the campaign.
Experts blame scandals surrounding ANC leader and South African president Jacob Zuma for some of the loss of support.
The polls come barely a month after the South African treasury ordered Zuma to pay back 7.8 million rand ($509,000) for non-security upgrades made on his private home during renovations funded by the state.
Four months ago, South Africa’s constitutional court found Zuma guilty of violating the constitution after he refused to comply with an anti-corruption watchdog which had ordered him to pay back some of the money.
The ANC, which fought white minority rule, still has support among rural and elderly black South Africans who view it as a party which liberated them from years of oppression.