The African National Congress won two-thirds of the vote in the March 1 local elections in South Africa, handily defeating its closest rival, the Democratic Alliance, which won 16 percent. The Inkatha Freedom Party won 8 percent, and the Independent Democrats, 2 percent.

The ANC’s vote reflected a 7 percent gain over its share of the vote six years ago.

“Our movement has emerged from the elections stronger than ever before, having increased its support within our system of local government,” South African President and ANC leader Thabo Mbeki said March 4.

Mbeki’s party prevailed in 223 of the country’s 277 municipalities, and won a majority in five of its six biggest cities. The only city where the ANC did not win a decisive victory was in Cape Town, where it is expected to share power with the Democratic Alliance and the smaller Independent Democrats.

The results show the majority of South Africans place a great deal of confidence in the African National Congress and its ideology of an inclusive and fair government.

Turnout was 48 percent, about the same as in 2000, although the ANC and election officials had hoped for a higher figure this time.

As early vote totals poured in, showing a big majority supporting the ANC, the party released a statement: “These preliminary observations indicate that South Africans have heeded the call to make local government a dynamic and integral instrument in the struggle to improve the lives of our people. They have endorsed the plan to make local government work better for all South Africans, and have indicated their readiness to play an active part in ensuring that it is effectively implemented.”

Paul Mashitile, the ANC’s election manager in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, said, “We will ensure that the trust and confidence put in the ANC by the citizens of Gauteng are not misplaced and will therefore immediately get down to work on implementing the ANC’s plan to make local government work better for all our people.”

Achieving this goal, the ANC said, includes ensuring that municipalities pay attention to the complaints raised by the people during the election campaign and that councilors be accessible and communicate with the people regularly about improving each district’s development plan and budget. Problems of substandard housing, poor sanitation and insufficient clean water remain acute in many areas, it said.

The ANC said cooperation among local, provincial and national governments will also be crucial to achieving social gains, particularly in reducing unemployment and creating jobs. As part of the ANC’s commitment to the electorate, its candidates signed a code of conduct prior to the election pledging their adherence to high ethical standards.

In the weeks leading up to the election, leaders and members of the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), known collectively as the Tripartite Alliance, vigorously campaigned for the ANC candidates.

Since the abolition of apartheid, the ANC-led government has made great improvements in the lives of the people of South Africa, especially for the poor and oppressed. The ANC program emphasizes unity and cooperation to develop and implement programs for the good of all South Africans.

In a recent statement, it said, “By working together, South Africans can and will overcome the many challenges that still confront our people.”