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By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s governing African National Congress was headed for victory after the tallying of 70 percent of votes in Wednesday’s national election, but its major opponent made significant gains.

The ANC had won 62.5 percent of the vote in the latest tabulations, compared with 65.9 percent in the last election in 2009. The main challenger, the Democratic Alliance, or DA, was at 22.5 percent, up from its 16.7 percent support five years ago.

The new Economic Freedom Fighters party, a radical party pushing for nationalization of banks, mines and land, was at 5 percent. The EFF, led by expelled former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, appears to have picked up support among the disaffected young unemployed.

The margins could still change as more votes are tallied.

Despite scandals over corruption, dissatisfaction over the delivery of government services and an unpopular leader, President Jacob Zuma, the ANC continued its dominant position. It is still widely supported by black South Africans as the party that freed them from apartheid.

The DA appears to have retained control of the Western Cape province but failed to achieve its objective of taking control of another province. Helen Zille, the party’s leader, conceded Wednesday that her party hadn’t managed to push the ANC below 60 percent of the vote, nor had it won control of the most populous province of Gauteng.

The biggest losers appeared to be smaller parties such as the Congress of the People, which won 7.5 percent last election but this time came away with less than 1 percent.

Voter turnout also appeared to have slumped despite a comment Wednesday from chief electoral official Pansy Tlakula that participation was “extremely high.”

Voter turnout was 72 percent in this election, compared with 77 percent in 2009 and 88 percent a decade earlier — seen as a sign of disillusionment among some voters who are unwilling to vote for the ANC but reluctant to support the DA, still perceived by many as a predominantly white party.

Photo: CJ Glynn via Flickr

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