BLUSTERY winter weather settled over South Africa on August 3rd as voters handed the ruling African National Congress a sharply diminished share of the vote in local-government elections, the most competitive polls since the end of apartheid. As The Economist went to press, incomplete results showed that the ANC had slid from 63% in the 2011 local polls (it won 62% in the 2014 national election) to around 52%. The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) appeared on track to boost its support to above 30%, up from 24% in 2011 and 22% in 2014. For Mmusi Maimane, 36, who only last year became the first black leader of what is still viewed as a white party, these results are a vote of confidence.
The populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), under the young firebrand Julius Malema, looked likely to match the 6.5% of the vote they received in 2014, the first election the party contested. This will be a big disappointment for Mr Malema, who had hoped to triple the EFF’s tally by appealing to disgruntled young ANC supporters with promises of nationalising mines and seizing white-owned land.