Final audited election results for the election, held on Wednesday for 278 metropolitan areas, could be released by the weekend, an Independent Election Commission official said.
The African National Congress is still expected to storm to victory given its domination of the political scene.
By early Thursday the ANC, which took about 67.7 percent of the vote in the last municipal race in 2006, was ahead with 62.5 percent of the votes. The major opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was making gains from the 14 percent it had in the last race with about 24 percent of the vote, election data showed.
The figures were based on counting of about 6 million ballots and, with about 23 million registered voters, it was too early to project a final outcome.
The biggest issues in the race in Africa’s largest economy were the slow pace of delivery of water, electricity and basic education for the poor and the anger of taxpayers who felt too much money was being lost to government corruption.
“The election outcome will have limited policy impact, but large electoral losses would reinforce political pressure for state spending and could undermine steady fiscal consolidation,” said Anne Fruhauf, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group.
Any slip in support could also embarrass President Jacob Zuma and jeopardise his chance of re-election when the ruling party chooses new leaders next year.
The DA, led by former journalist Helen Zille and once associated with white privilege, has set out to use its administration of Cape Town to show it can govern better than the ANC.
In a blow to the ANC, the DA has retained control of the hotly contested Midvaal municipality, one of the few cities it held in the country’s richest province, Gauteng, which is also considered the ANC’s traditional base.
An IPSOS/Markinor survey conducted before the election showed that the ANC’s support may drop to below 60 percent, though losses are unlikely to lead to policy changes.
What once looked like a dull contest for control of cities including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, heated up as a row over squalid, open toilets built for the poor dominated headlines.
The ANC scored political points a few months ago when it found the DA had not built walls around public toilets in shantytowns in an area it controlled.
But the ANC came under fire later when it was reported that it had also failed to build such walls in another town, with a local ANC official being paid state funds for shoddy construction work.
Despite government spending of billions of dollars on redressing apartheid-era inequalities, the results have been mixed and millions of people still live in grinding poverty, without access to sanitation and proper housing.
Analysts said the election would likely mark the emergence of a new non-racial voting bloc basing its poll decisions more on a party’s ability to govern than its role in helping end white-minority rule. Reuters