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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
S Africans stay loyal to democracy
By Barnaby Phillips
BBC correspondent in South Africa

South African President Thabo Mbeki
ANC leaders say their success is down to economic policies
"More of the same" is a fair summing up of the South African election results.

The ANC's political hegemony continues, and all the opposition parties still struggle to convince substantial numbers of black people to vote for them.

The big picture is that the ANC should get over two-thirds of the vote, and it continues to win massive majorities in seven of South Africa's nine provinces.

One opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), led by the combative Tony Leon, will take heart from the results.

The DA's vote is in double figures, and will increase its representation in parliament.

Also rans

But the results make bleak reading for the New National Party, formerly known as the National Party, which has seen its support plummet.

We wouldn't even be voting if it wasn't for the ANC
South African voter
This could be the end of the road for the "Nats", who ruled South Africa in the old apartheid days.

Their demise appears to have benefited the DA, who are now the undoubted party of choice for most white South Africans.

What of the others? Well, the Inkatha Freedom Party remains a potent force in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, but is increasingly irrelevant in the rest of the country.

And the new kids on the block, the Independent Democrats, led by the popular Patricia de Lille, have made a creditable showing, and should win about 10 seats in parliament.

Thriving democracy

So why is the ANC so dominant? Its leaders argue that it is because it has delivered, not just basic services for millions of poor black people, but also modest economic growth.

There is some truth in this, but the ANC can also rely on the gratitude and loyalty of most black South Africans.

1.6m new houses built for poor
Stable economy, low inflation
70% households electrified
9m access to water
30% unemployment
5.3m with HIV/Aids
Massive wealth inequality

"We wouldn't even be voting if it wasn't for the ANC," said one woman in a Soweto queue. "They are the ones that liberated us."

Opposition parties have tried to argue that the ANC's dominance is not good for South African democracy.

The DA, in particular, has raised the possibility of President Mbeki changing the constitution and running for a third term in 2009.

But there are also reasons to believe that South African democracy is in rude health, even as it appears that South Africa is a de facto one party state.

Almost all the parties agree that the election was well-organised.

It was also peaceful. And perhaps most importantly, the turn-out appears to have been quite high.

There were fears of voter apathy in the run-up to the poll. Election officials are now estimating that the turn-out was about 75%.

Granted, that is down on the exceptional turn-outs of 1994 and 1999.

And it is also true that several million eligible voters did not even bother to register.

But watching the long queues forming at dawn in Soweto was, for many of us, a humbling experience. "We have to vote," one unemployed man told me, "it will make our lives better."

Ten years after liberation, the vast majority of South Africans are still prepared to put their faith in democracy.

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