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Zuma rocks out as votes are counted

The ANC has more than 66 percent of votes with about half of South Africa's ballots counted.

Boys stand in front of a mural depicting African National Congress leader and South African presidential candidate Jacob Zuma in the township of Guguletu in Cape Town April 21, 2009. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress — the party that ended apartheid and has ruled South Africa for the past 15 years — is heading for another landslide victory in the country’s fourth democratic elections.

With about half the ballots counted, the party of Nelson Mandela is leading with more than 66 percent of the votes counted. The results demonstrate that the ANC’s enormous appeal among the country’s black majority has not been affected by the deep internal rift that led to the forced resignation of former President Thabo Mbeki and the formation of a breakaway party last year.

As the party’s leader, Jacob Zuma will become South Africa’s fourth black president when he is sworn in May 9 in Pretoria. The date will mark the completion of an extraordinary political comeback for Zuma, who was fired by Mbeki in 2005 and then weathered corruption and rape charges. He was acquitted of rape charges and the corruptions charges were dropped.

At a rally outside the ANC’s headquarters in downtown Johannesburg on Thursday night, Zuma struck a slightly vindictive tone, saying rival parties, political analysts and the media had all erred in predicting that the ANC’s influence and majority in Parliament would diminish as a result of the election.

“There is one point they all agreed on: that the African National Congress will win this election,” Zuma told thousands of cheering supporters. “Already, as the counting is going on I am told millions have voted for the ANC.”

Zuma stopped short of declaring outright victory, only saying that the ANC has “done very well.” But there was little doubt the mood was celebratory. Sporting a red polo shirt and a black-and-yellow ANC leather jacket, Zuma joined the numerous dance groups on stage, displaying a litheness that would be the envy of most other 67-year-olds.

The ANC insisted this was not a victory celebration yet, but with the explosion of gold and green confetti, fireworks and the three oversized champagne bottles switching hands among ANC dignitaries, one easily could have been fooled. Even Zuma, who never drinks, had a cup. A true victory party is planned for Friday.

As of late Thursday, the ANC was leading the vote with 66.7 percent. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, was second with about 16 percent. The Congress of the People, a party formed by ANC dissidents in the wake of Mbeki’s departure, was third with 8 percent of the vote. Expatriate South Africans were allowed to vote for the first time this year, and the DA received about 75 percent of votes cast overseas.