STELLENBOSCH, South Africa — The party of Nelson Mandela appears poised to maintain its hold on the South African government despite near daily stories of corruption and an economy that has fallen off significantly from its past high.
A survey conducted by Ipsos in March found that the African National Congress may even increase its majority to 66% of the seats in the country’s national parliament in elections May 7. The results of the March 23 poll surprised analysts who believed dissatisfaction with the scandal-plagued government of President Jacob Zuma could drive the ANC vote beneath 60%. The ANC has governed South Africa without interruption since the end of apartheid 20 years ago. Mandela, who was the country’s first freely elected president, died Dec. 5.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance is projected to win 23% of the vote, up from 17% in 2009, the year Zuma was elected. The Economic Freedom Fighters, a left-wing ANC breakaway, is projected to take 4%. The poll suggests South Africans remain loyal to the party of Mandela and look past Zuma’s scandals, the latest of which is a $22 million state-financed security upgrade to his vast personal compound.
One of the security needs is a swimming pool that Zuma said was necessary in case of fire. Zuma has said his family paid for the construction but in a 444-page report, public protector Thuli Madonsela said this wasn’t true. She accused Zuma of ethical violations and conduct “inconsistent with his office.” Zuma has also been flayed in the press for having sex with a prostitute and saying he made sure not to get infected with HIV, a continual problem here, because he took a shower.
Meanwhile, the official unemployment rate is around 25% but is widely conceded to be much higher, say analysts. No new private sector jobs have been created in the past five years despite the government’s pledge to create 5 million new jobs by 2020. Yet the ANC may be spared retribution at the ballot box because of the party’s spending on anti-poverty programs, says Frans Cronje, head of the South African Institute of Race Relations. Since 1994, 3 million housing units have been constructed for the poor, and electricity and water connections have been extended into rural areas. Welfare benefits have increased from 3 million to 16 million people. The number of blacks now placed in the middle class has doubled to 10%.
“We’ve got a good story to tell” is the ANC campaign slogan. But crushing poverty remains in many parts of the country, including in primitive slums in the shadows of skyscrapers in the modernized cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. UNICEF, the U.N. anti-poverty agency, estimates that 1.4 million children rely on often dirty streams for drinking water, and 1.5 million children live in shacks that have no toilets, no proper bedding, cooking or washing facilities. Four in 10 children live in homes where no one is employed, UNICEF says. About 330,000 children and 5 million adults are infected with HIV, and 40% of those infected die from it. The economy expanded by less than 2% in 2013. Strikes in the mining and manufacturing sectors have become chronic, causing billions of dollars of lost exports.
Many blame the poor economy on government mismanagement, and foreign investors are staying away as a result. Employment in mining, agriculture and manufacturing has shrunk or been flat, and their share of gross domestic product has steadily declined. Wages have risen but productivity has not, meaning that South Africa’s competitiveness has fallen. Peter Major, an American money manager and mining specialist in Cape Town, says an anti-business posture, lack of investment and falling productivity resulted in 20 years of prosperity “being thrown away.” South Africa has slipped from being the world’s biggest gold producer to No. 5; platinum and coal account for a bigger share of exports now. Major says with proper policies the “sector could turn around instantly.”
Whether that will happen may depend on what political movements emerge in the years ahead, as Mandela’s party can rely less on its role in freeing blacks from apartheid and must answer increasingly for South Africa’s condition. So far much of the activity has been around leftist movements, many of which were unhappy that Mandela did not install a socialist anti-white state while in power. The ANC has maintained power in an alliance with the Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. But there are cracks appearing in that bloc. Former ANC ally Julius Malema started his own party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which is gaining support among young people for a takeover of white-owned farms and banks similar to that done by Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, to disastrous effect in that neighboring country.
The ANC’s largest trade union ally, the National Union of Metalworkers, withdrew from the party soon after Mandela’s death and is expected to form a party to the left of the ANC. Despite the de-facto one-party rule and rise of leftism, South Africa remains a stronghold of African democracy. The news media and Internet are considered free from censorship and even state broadcaster SABC provided live coverage of the damning public protector’s report on the president’s Nklanda home. Constitutional lawyer Izak Smuts describes the Zuma investigation as “an outstanding example of the strength of our democracy.” The judiciary remains largely independent, say analysts. And there are no recriminations for full-throated debate in the country’s parliament, where opposition politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi — with Zuma in the chamber — accused the president of “having failed … leading a hideously transformed party that has fallen from Mandela’s standards.”
Violence in Bekkersdal on eve of election A voting station burning in Bekkersdal. (SABC, Twitter) Johannesburg – Two tents belonging to the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) were burnt in Bekkersdal on the eve of the general elections, Gauteng police said. Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said that earlier residents beat up a man they accused of theft, but police intervened and rescued him.
“They ran away and burnt tyres and two tents belonging to the IEC.” No one was arrested and the extent of the man’s injuries was not immediately clear. Bekkersdal is one of several hotspots where the army has been deployed to keep order ahead of the election. It has been the site of protests over service delivery and other issues since last year. In February voter registration was disrupted in Bekkersdal when two voter registration stations were petrol bombed. In March an African National Congress delegation was pelted with stones during a door-to-door campaign there.
Zuma urges Tutu to stay out of politics
Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma hit back at Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu on Monday for his criticism of the ANC, two days before general polls. “My understanding is that bishops and pastors are there to pray for those who go wrong, not to enter into political lives,” Zuma told journalists after the Anglican archbishop emeritus last month questioned the calibre of the country’s leaders.
Known as South Africa’s moral compass, Tutu has been very critical of the ANC government’s graft scandals and poor governance. A few weeks ago he reaffirmed that the ruling party would not get his ballot in the 7 May elections. “I have said I won’t vote for them and say it with a very heavy heart,” he lamented after saying the new leaders fell short of liberation heroes like Nelson Mandela.
Zuma’s government has limped from one scandal to another, the most prominent being R230m in state-paid security upgrades at his private Nkandla home. This has prompted a group of ANC stalwarts to call on voters to spoil their ballot – a campaign which Tutu supported. But Zuma disapproved of the measure. “For pastors to say don’t vote… I think to me that is a problem. That is entering into a political thing.”
His statements come despite the fact that numerous clergymen from different religions have attended campaign rallies of the ANC, and even prayed for the party’s victory. Other political parties also often invoke religion in their support. Relations between the “Arch” and the ANC have been prickly in recent years, but the party has carefully worded its responses to the often-public diatribes of a popular figure. “I respect pastors, I respect bishops. That is his views, it is his own views, and he talks to people,” Zuma said on Monday.