A week before South Africa’s local elections on Wednesday, the Zithas held a family meeting inside their entertainment room to decide how to vote. Loyal backers of the African National Congress in every election since the end of apartheid, the family decided it was time for a change. Now, on a leisurely Sunday morning, as his wife and daughter got ready for church, Danny Zitha, 61, a former high school teacher, said the long-governing A.N.C. had left him disillusioned because of its corruption, arrogance and incompetence. He will never go back, he said. “Not at all, as long as I’m alive, sorry,” he said, adding with a laugh, “Maybe after death.” The A.N.C., which was the party of Nelson Mandela and helped free South Africa from white-minority rule, suffered its worst losses ever at the polls in the municipal elections last week. Unrivaled for the past two decades, the party lost control of two black-majority cities, including the capital, Pretoria, in what many believe is a profound change in how race and the legacy of apartheid influence South African politics. The party’s decline was especially steep in the biggest cities, with many black, middle-class voters in places like Chantelle, a suburb of Pretoria, turning against it. Twenty-two years after the end of apartheid, such voters appeared more concerned with mundane matters like good governance and taxes than with the party’s heroic liberation past.
The emergence of real alternatives for voters, and possibly the growing accountability of political parties, are positive steps for South Africa’s democracy, analysts and even A.N.C. officials have said. In Pretoria, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, defeated the A.N.C. by two percentage points. The A.N.C.’s share of the vote fell to 41 percent from 55 percent in the last local elections, in 2011.
In many ways, the shifting dynamics inside Chantelle reflect larger forces — a growing black middle class in a rapidly urbanizing country — that are detrimental to the A.N.C., which, especially under President Jacob G. Zuma, has relied on patronage to maintain power.
As the election results began trickling in last week, A.N.C. officials said they would engage in “introspection.” But examples from the rest of the continent are not encouraging: Few liberation movements that assumed power have been able to transform themselves with the changing times and needs.