South African President Jacob Zuma, reeling from historic losses in local elections, said Saturday that voters "are sending out messages all around" and that his ruling African National Congress was "going to listen very, very carefully."
Zuma spoke as vote tallies showed the ANC losing control of the capital, Pretoria, and its majority in the country's largest city and economic center, Johannesburg.
The party of Nelson Mandela already had conceded defeat Friday in Port Elizabeth, losing the key battleground in Wednesday's municipal elections by nearly 7 percentage points.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, seated, and African National Congress party members discuss municipal election results at the results center in Pretoria, South Africa, Aug. 5, 2016.
In the metropolitan area that includes Pretoria, the opposition Democratic Alliance Party won 43.1 percent of the vote while the ANC finished with 41.2 percent.
Surveys showed the ANC still leading nationally with 54 percent of the vote. But that was scant comfort to ANC leaders as vote tallies Saturday in Johannesburg showed the ruling party falling below an outright majority and in need of political allies to retain control of the city.
Zuma has been plagued by political scandal since taking office seven years ago. In one instance, he was found to have used $500,000 of public money to renovate his private home. The country's Constitutional Court has ordered him to repay that sum.
During his rule, unemployment has risen to 27 percent, and economic analysts are predicting zero growth in the country's gross domestic product for 2016.
As Zuma spoke Saturday on national television, four women stood in front of him, carrying signs apparently referring to his acquittal on rape charges in 2006, three years before taking office. Zuma did not appear to respond to the silent protest.
The Democratic Alliance already runs South Africa's second-largest city, Cape Town. Party leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters that the ANC "for far too long had governed South Africa with absolute impunity."
He also warned that the campaign for the presidency in 2019 "starts now."