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Zuma elected president

ANC wins elections, but does not get two-thirds majority, Democratic Alliance is opposition party, speculation around new cabinet, economic outlook still gloomy but rand strengthens.

Top News: South Africa’s fourth round of national and provincial elections since the end of apartheid in 1994 went fairly smoothly, and the ruling African National Congress, as was widely expected, won a landslide victory. The ANC won 65.9 percent of the vote and secured victory in all but one of South Africa’s nine provinces. The ANC’s victory was large but fell short of the two-thirds majority it won five years ago. As ANC leader, Jacob Zuma will be sworn in as South Africa’s fourth black president on May 9 in a ceremony expected to cost $8.9 million.

The Democratic Alliance consolidated its position as the main opposition party by winning 16.7 percent of the vote and wresting the Western Cape province (where Cape Town is located) away from the ANC. Helen Zille, DA leader and Cape Town mayor, is expected to become the province’s premier. With the ANC’s nomination of four female premier candidates, women are set to run the majority of South Africa’s provinces for the first time.

The Congress of the People (Cope), a party formed by ANC dissidents late last year after the ousting of former President Thabo Mbeki, won only 7.4 percent of the vote after poor campaign management and fighting among its leaders. The future of Cope is unclear, but it seems internal bickering is set to continue.

This election confirmed that South Africa’s myriad small parties may not be part of the country’s political future. Patricia de Lille, whose Independent Democrats party received less than 1 percent of the votes, urged minority parties to merge ahead of future polls.

The Independent Electoral Commission declared the elections “free and fair,” and voting proceeded rather smoothly despite occasional ballot shortages and long queues. Compared with Western countries, turnout was high at 77.3 percent but lower than hoped. Mbeki had been rumored to support Cope but when he cast his vote he declined to say for whom. So did Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, despite indicating earlier that he wouldn’t vote because of the government’s alleged disrespect for the law and human rights.

As the majority of the country’s blacks voted ANC and whites voted for the DA, President Kgalema Motlanthe said the vote shows South Africa is still racially divided. In his victory speech, Zuma emphasized the ANC’s responsibility and pledged to work for “all South Africans.”

There is a great deal of speculation over who will be in Zuma’s cabinet. The main questions are whether celebrated Finance Minister Trevor Manuel will keep his post and whether President Motlanthe will remain in government.

South Africa’s elections were not spared from social unrest. Zuma soothed angry taxi drivers by suspending a wide-ranging bus system that would threaten their livelihoods, while a doctors’ strike over low pay caused a pregnant woman to die for lack of medical attention.

The state broadcaster announced the departure of the head of its news department. The controversial Snuki Zikalala had reached an untenable position, being accused of favoring either the ruling ANC or ANC-breakaway Cope in his coverage. Few will mourn his departure.

South Africa reached high alert when it identified its first two suspected cases of swine flu. One has been cleared, however, and the other one is still awaiting test results.

Money: South Africa’s economic outlook is not looking any brighter. The International Monetary Fund now predicts South Africa’s economy will shrink by 0.3 percent this year. Corporate liquidations went up a whopping 46 percent during the first quarter compared with the year-ago period.

The Reserve Bank cut the basic lending rate by another 100 basis points to 8.5 percent, but the Bank’s governor, Tito Mboweni, dampened investors’ enthusiasm when he said that recovery was still a long way to go. Maria Ramos, chief executive of one of South Africa’s largest banks, Absa, added to the gloom by warning against tougher economic times ahead.

Consumers are the first ones to suffer as food prices have increased by 5.5 percent this year, according to the union Solidarity. Farmers want a probe into the price hikes. South Africa’s antitrust authorities are also looking into practices in the construction industry.

Meanwhile, South Africa is gearing up for a trade row with China, one of its largest trading partners, after it slapped anti-dumping duties on kitchen sinks from China and Malaysia. The strength of the South African rand, which has gained 30 percent since October, could pose further problems to the country’s exporters.

Elsewhere: The Federation Internationale de Football Association is not doing much to publicize next year’s soccer World Cup, but at least it is making sure others aren’t either. FIFA just won a court ruling barring a Pretoria pub from displaying a “World Cup 2010” sign to attract customers.

President-in-waiting Jacob Zuma famously declared that he took a shower to stave off infection after having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman. Now all South Africans can experience the same cleansing feeling by ordering the Zuma Shower Gel (a joke product).