The African National Congress secured another commanding victory at the polls on 7 May. The ruling party rode out scandals surrounding President Jacob Zuma and growing anger at its failure to deliver on old promises to the millions living in townships for its fifth successive win since the end of apartheid. It was dubbed the ‘born-free’ election as it was the first time that the one million or so South Africans born after the end of apartheid could vote.

With all the ballots counted, the Independent Electoral Commission announced the ANC had 62% of the vote (249 seats), followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party, on 22% (89). Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 25 seats, or 6.35% of the vote, in its first elections. Of the 26 smaller parties, Inkatha won 10 and its breakaway party, the National Freedom Party, received six.

A further 21 seats were shared by eight parties. The Pan Africanist Congress, once a mighty rival to the ANC in the 1960s but now almost forgotten and on its way to extinction, won one of these, and an ANC splinter from 2008, the Congress of the People (Cope), won three.

A party formed only a year ago and perhaps not likely to see out another year, Agang SA secured two seats, which was seen as a crushing blow to Mamphela Ramphele, a prominent activist, doctor and partner of Steve Biko. Ramphele had been wooed by the (largely white liberal) DA as its presidential candidate, eager to benefit from her Black Consciousness credentials. She did this without telling her own party and was forced to ‘back down embarrassingly from her decision’.

The DA leader Helen Zille said Ramphele had committed political suicide by turning down the opportunity to lead her party, the South African Times reported. ‘Mamphela has destroyed her political brand and value,’ Zille said. ‘She had a big brand value before voters rejected her.’ Zille said Ramphele could have helped to consolidate the opposition if she had stayed with the DA.

But Zille’s own party was in need of some consolidation: Lindiwe Mazibuko’s resignation from the DA’s parliamentary list was a ‘blessing in disguise’ and had saved the party from a bruising battle for the parliamentary leadership, said a party insider. Mazibuko, 31, became the first black parliamentary leader of the DA in 2011, when she beat the incumbent, Athol Trollip. Maimane, the party’s national spokesperson, has become DA leader Helen Zille’s new favourite. “Mmusi is the new guinea pig and Lindiwe has become the sacrificial lamb,” said one MP.

Malema had ‘shown his political nous’ by accepting the election results, the Mail & Guardian thought, after the former ANC Youth League leader had questioned delays in Gauteng province’s vote count, which happened when the ANC’s support had dipped to below 50%, according to the EFF. ‘We accept defeat and life goes on,’ said Malema, who even went as far as congratulating the ANC, DA and other parties on their success.

Zuma, meanwhile, had to a delicate political and ethnic balancing act in choosing his cabinet but needed to shore up his support, said Richard Calland in the Mail & Guardian.He added that with the Nkandla scandal in the background and the judicial review of the decision to drop serious corruption charges against him on the horizon, ‘there will be plenty of significant voices in the party who will be ready to argue that any electoral success was in spite of Zuma rather than because of him, and that overall he is a liability rather than an asset to the [ANC].’

Calland thought Cyril Ramaphosa, the tycoon and apartheid-era union leader, would want to subsume control of the National Planning Commission and the government’s performance-evaluation roles into his deputy presidential role. ‘That would give him real heft and make him a de facto prime minister, which is what many in the ANC leadership want – as a way of masking and overcoming Zuma’s own painfully obvious inadequacies as a modern head of government.’

Announcing the results—20 years to the day that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first democratic president—Pansy Tlakula, IEC chair, said there had been a healthy 73.4% turnout. ‘We can confirm to the world—democracy is well and thriving in this land,’ she said.

The elections were generally reckoned to have gone well, although the DA said it had discovered hundreds of marked ballot papers in bin bags in Pretoria, the Citizen reported, and The Mail & Guardianrevealed a number of discrepancies in how the votes were tallied, especially in Gauteng, (the most populous province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria). The M&G said: ‘A scanned slip from one voting station [in Pretoria] differed vastly with what was recorded by the Independent Electoral Commission and signed off by auditors … in other cases there is a large discrepancy between the national and provincial vote for a party, beyond the norm. ‘If this is the case with this voting station, how many others are there?’ asked an independent election observer.

Zuma said the election showed how deeply rooted the ANC was in people’s hearts. “They have approved of the good work we have done over the last 20 years in general and in the past five years in particular … This affirms the good story we have to tell.’

This might be seen as accentuating the positive. Although the ANC won enough votes to remain above the psychologically important 60% mark, it did not secure an absolute majority. Yet even such an overwhelming win is a kind of defeat for the ANC: that it would win handsomely was never in doubt, but by not getting over the desperately-hoped for two-thirds threshold it will be blocked from pushing through controversial bills such as the protection of state information bill (the ‘secrecy bill’) and, as the writer Zakes Mda points out, they cannot change the constitution and so Zuma will not get the immunity from prosecution on corruption charges he craves.