South Africa's President-elect Jacob Zuma made a triumphant appearance before cheering supporters last night as early results showed a resounding win for the ruling African National Congress.
Africa's new showman president said he could "smell" a 70 per cent majority, then sang his signature resistance song "Bring Me My Machine Gun" in front of a crowd of thousands decked out in the ANC's green, yellow and black outside the party headquarters in Johannesburg. "This party is an elephant. You cannot topple an elephant," he said. While a full count is not expected until this morning, early results appeared to show Mr Zuma's party was on course for a two-thirds majority that will allow him to override the constitution.
Mr Zuma's comments were seen as a coded thank-you to the hundreds of thousands of Zulus who are thought to have voted in record numbers for Mr Zuma, abandoning their traditional support for the Inkatha Freedom Party, and helping to insulate the ANC from losses elsewhere. ANC spokeswoman Jessie Duarte was more cautious: "You don't need two-thirds to govern a country. You need political will to do so."
With roughly half the votes counted the ANC had nearly 67 per cent, far ahead of its breakaway rival Cope, with less than 8 per cent and leaving the Democratic Alliance with 16 per cent as the main opposition party.
The DA leader Helen Zille proclaimed herself happy with the provisional result despite campaigning vigorously on a platform of "Stop Zuma" and warning that the ANC must not get a two-thirds majority. The white-dominated party is expected to head the provincial government in the South Africa's richest state, the Western Cape.
The scale of the ANC victory represents a strong popular endorsement of 67 year old who endured increasingly trenchant attacks from the opposition during a gruelling campaign. The boy who herded his grandfather's goats rather than go to school and was imprisoned for a decade at the age of 21 for his ANC activities is now in charge of Africa's largest economy. His openly polygamous status, his self-styled championing of the poor and amiable style will give the leadership of South Africa a striking makeover.
There are, however, serious concerns that a Zuma presidency will mean restrictions on freedom of speech and an erosion of the separation of powers. The ANC leader has faced a torrid seven years of legal battles where he has been acquitted of rape and escaped corruption charges on a technicality.
But the enigmatic Mr Zuma has denied any intention to alter South Africa's widely admired constitution.