Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 17:16 UK

ANC leads in South African poll

ANC supporters relax by a poster of Jacob Zuma on election day in Johannesburg
Jacob Zuma is extremely popular at grass-roots level

Early results have given South Africa's ANC a big lead in the general election, paving the way for controversial party leader Jacob Zuma to become president.

Supporters were invited to celebrate, though it was not clear whether the ANC would secure the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments.

With just over 40% of votes counted, it had 66% to 16.5% for its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The newly formed Congress of the People (Cope) was being given just 8%.

A Cope leader was shot dead but the vote appeared otherwise peaceful.

The final, official results will not be known for days but the margin of the ANC's victory may become clearer later on Thursday.

Charges of corruption against Mr Zuma, 67, were dropped just two weeks before the poll after state prosecutors said there had been political interference in the case.

With parliament electing the president, it looks likely that an ANC-controlled assembly will emerge to pick Mr Zuma as the country's leader next month.

Cape upset

ANC supporters were invited to celebrate the result on Thursday afternoon in the Library Gardens area of Johannesburg.

A voter in Cape Town
ANC: 66%
Democratic Alliance: 16.5%
Cope: 8%
Votes counted: 42%
Turnout: 77%
Source: IEC

"The ANC invites fellow South Africans to attend this celebration to share the joy of having achieved a strong mandate to consolidate the gains made during the past 15 years," the party said in a statement.

Several thousand ANC supporters were gathering there ahead of an expected address by Mr Zuma, some singing and dancing.

Monday's poll was the country's fourth, and most competitive, general election since the end of apartheid 15 years ago.

Turnout was comparable to the last general election in 2004, when it was 76% and the ANC won 70% of the vote.

Voting was extended in some areas because of the long queues and a shortage of some polling materials.

Results are still expected from many big townships, where the ANC is expected to do well, but the party appears to have suffered a reverse in the area around Cape Town.

With many votes still to be counted, it was already clear that about half of the Western Cape province's voters have opted for the DA, led by Helen Zille.

Karen Allen reports from the Election Commission in Pretoria

This is a considerable setback for Mr Zuma whose party currently controls all the country's nine provinces and could justifiably claim to speak for all parts of South Africa, BBC Africa analyst Martin Plaut reports.

It is now clear that the DA will take this province even if it has to do so in coalition with another party, he adds.

Ms Zille is already mayor of Cape Town and draws much of her support from the area's large white and mixed-race communities.

Before the election, she urged South Africans to vote to prevent the ANC retaining its two-thirds majority, saying the party might then change the constitution to prevent new charges being brought against Mr Zuma.

Mr Zuma has always denied having any such plans.

Second place fight

In Eastern Cape province, where Cope was expected to do well, the new party was being given just 13% of the vote.

Jacob Zuma, casting his vote on 22 April
Served 10 years for ANC membership during apartheid era
Regarded as a populist who appeals to the left
Dogged by corruption and sex scandals
Aged 67; Zulu; known popularly as JZ; has at least two wives

A Cope official in the province, Gerlad Yona, was shot and mortally wounded when three armed men attacked his home, a party spokesman said.

Nkosifikile Gqomo said the party believed the attack was linked to politics.

Cope was formed by ANC dissidents who supported former President Thabo Mbeki, who resigned last year after losing a power struggle with Mr Zuma.

Mr Mbeki has denied accusations that his government used the courts to try and prevent his rival rising to the presidency.

Analysts say Cope's emergence energised the early stages of the election campaign but the party's popularity seems to have diminished in recent weeks.

Cope fielded a relatively unknown presidential candidate, former Bishop Mvume Dandala who, analysts say, has struggled to make an impact.

He told the BBC that the party did not see the result as a rejection. "We are saying that we have been given a critical mass upon which to build," he said.

Many of the new voters were young people who had little memory of the struggle to end white minority rule, which brought the ANC to power.

"We are entering a post-liberation era," independent political analyst David Monyae told Reuters news agency.

"People are talking about new issues and challenges and there's also a new generation that's not attached to the liberation struggle."

Some say the real battle is between Cope and the Democratic Alliance for second place, which the DA seems to have won.

Analysts say the two parties could enter into a coalition after the election, which could present a real threat to the ANC's continued dominance of South Africa.

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