Support for South Africa's ruling African National Congress party fell below 50% in local elections this week for the first time since the end of apartheid.
The results announced Thursday for many of Monday's municipal wards showed the ANC received about 46% of the 12.3 million votes cast nationwide. Not since it became the nation’s dominant party in 1994 has the ANC seen such low support.
The party still achieved a majority in 161 municipalities, compared to 13 for the opposition Democratic Alliance and 10 for the Inkatha Freedom Party. No party won control in 66 other municipalities — in those areas the ANC likely will be forced into forming coalitions to hold power.
The ANC faced widespread criticism as many municipalities it governs are bankrupt and mostly are failing to deliver basic services.
In an interview with VOA, Sheila Camerer, a former member of parliament for the main opposition party Democratic Alliance, said her party's platform hinged on better local governance.
“The message we took to the voters is the city works when the DA is in charge," she said, citing results in Midvaal Local Municipality in Gauteng where the DA won more than 70% of the vote.
"We are not like the ANC," she said. "We are not corrupt, and we do not let everything disintegrate."
ANC leaders downplayed this week's results and said it does not reflect a larger trend.
“Preliminary results indicate that we’ll have more hung councils than in the previous local elections," said ANC Acting Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, speaking at the Independent Electoral Commission’s center in Tshwane.
"This will necessitate the need for coalitions or other forms of cooperation with other political formations," he said. "This is nothing new. We’ve done so since 1994.”
Forming many coalitions, however, could be a formidable challenge for the ANC.
An increasing number of leaders of smaller political parties, such as Action SA’s Herman Mashaba, seem bent on isolating the ruling party.
“Action SA will not go into coalition with the ANC," he said.
The Freedom Front Plus, a conservative, almost exclusively white Afrikaner party, doubled its share of the vote this week to five and a half percent when compared with 2016.
Party leader Pieter Groenewald said it hopes to be a potential kingmaker in several municipalities.
“We’re available as far as coalitions are concerned," he said. But he added that the party will not join a coalition with ANC.
But some minority party leaders said joining a coalition with the ANC could work in their favor.
The Economic Freedom Fighters party got more than 10% of the vote this week, and in some wards, the party received the third most votes.
Deputy leader Floyd Shivambu said the party will put “anyone” into power, including the ANC if it means receiving leadership positions for EFF officials.
"The EFF wants to be part of government now," he said.
The ANC's Duarte wasn’t prepared to say which parties the ANC is willing to work with or what it would be ready to offer them in exchange for staying at the helm of major cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Nelson Mandela Bay.
“The ANC’s approach to coalitions remains based on principle, not expediency, and guided by the spirit, mandate, and interest of the voters,” he said.
VOA's James Butty contributed to this report.