The ruling African National Congress (ANC) posted its worst election results in more than two decades Saturday, losing three of South Africa's eight major metropolitan areas to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in local elections.

After 22 years of political dominance, the historic ANC liberation movement lost the capital, Pretoria, the manufacturing hub Port Elizabeth and tourist hotspot Cape Town to South Africa's main opposition party, the electoral commission's final results showed.

In Johannesburg, South Africa's largest and wealthiest city, the ruling party fell short of an absolute majority but still won with 44.5 per cent of the vote.

The ANC, which led the country out of 46 years of apartheid in 1994 with Nelson Mandela at the helm, has seen a gradual erosion in support.

The final tally for Thursday's elections showed the party with 54 per cent of all votes - down from the 62 per cent garnered by the ANC in the last local elections in 2011.

The DA received 27 per cent of all votes across the country. Long considered a white party in South Africa, the DA has gained support among a growing black middle class.

"The myth of the DA as a 'white' party has finally been shattered," party leader Mmusi Maimane said Saturday. "More and more black South Africans are seeing the difference we can make where we govern, and are entrusting us with their votes."

Maimane is the first black South African to head the party.

Many South Africans have criticized President Jacob Zuma and the ANC for widespread corruption and cronyism, amid lagging economic growth, high unemployment, lack of housing and crumbling education and health systems.

The DA captured 43 per cent of the vote in the metro area surrounding Pretoria, which is known as Tshwane Metro, beating the ANC by 2 percentage points, according to the electoral commission website.

The DA captured a solid majority - 66 and 63 per cent, respectively - in Cape Town, where it previously governed, and in the economically important Western Cape province, where Cape Town is located.

The opposition party also beat the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, where the car manufacturing hub Port Elizabeth is located, with 47 per cent, while the ANC trailed at 41 per cent.

"The elected representatives must govern on behalf of and in the best interests of all South Africans," Zuma said Saturday. "They must build an accessible, caring and efficient local government system throughout the country, regardless of which party controls the municipality."

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