South Africa’s ANC enters election season as Zuma lurks

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress has suffered a sharp drop in support amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement – Copyright AFP/File RODGER BOSCH

Umberto BACCHI

South Africa’s ruling ANC launches its election campaign on Saturday, May 29, facing its worst ever result amid high unemployment, a stagnant economy and a challenge from its former leader.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his bitter predecessor Jacob Zuma are expected to engage in competing events in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, a key electoral battleground.

Ramaphosa’s African National Congress, which has been in power since democracy came to power in 1994, has suffered a sharp drop in support amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

She faces an uphill battle to retain her parliamentary majority, with opinion polls showing she is particularly vulnerable in KwaZulu-Natal – Zuma’s home province.

The former president, who has long resented how he was forced out of office, has joined an opposition group seeking to cut the ANC’s vote share.

“Zuma is the single biggest threat to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal,” said Zakhele Ndlovu, a politics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban.

The row between the two leaders will play out in public on Saturday, when the ANC expects 85,000 activists to fill a football stadium in Durban for the launch of its election programme.

Zuma will hold court less than an hour away at a country club in the coastal town of Scottburgh.

South Africa’s second most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal, is seen as a benchmark for the ANC’s national prospects.

It has the largest ANC membership, but there the party is already under pressure from the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) and its ally, the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.

“If the ANC doesn’t do well in KwaZulu-Natal, it won’t do well nationally,” said Susan Booysen, political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.

– “Running out slogans” –

Polls suggest the party could win just 40 percent of the national vote, forcing it to seek a coalition government to stay in power.

But given budget constraints, Ramaphosa is unlikely to make big election promises, analysts say.

Instead, according to the ANC, it is expected to be a liberation movement that brought democracy to South Africa and helped lift many out of poverty.

Access to health care and social security grants are key draws for a large portion of voters, Booysen said.

“The big challenge for the ANC will be to project itself, despite all the other problems and its own decline, as a big strong party that can actually get things done,” she said.

Supporters are also likely to hear promises to end crippling power cuts, fight rampant crime and create jobs, but their effectiveness has been undermined by the ANC’s record.

Official figures released in recent weeks show that both the number of murders and the unemployment rate have risen in recent months.

South Africa recorded nearly 84 murders a day from October to December. Unemployment in the same period was 32.1 percent.

Three decades after the end of apartheid, the country remains the most unequal in the world, according to the World Bank.

“The ANC has run out of slogans,” said Xolani Dube, a political analyst at the Xubera Institute.

On Friday, Ramaphosa declared election day – May 29 – a public holiday.

According to the Electoral Commission, more than 27 million people are registered to vote.

– Zuma “magnet” –

Zuma is relying largely on his influence and charisma to attract voters to his new radical Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), or Spear of the Nation, observers say.

The group, named after the former military wing of the ANC, has no significant political differences from the ruling party.

Tarnished by scandal and facing corruption charges, the 81-year-old remains hugely popular in his home province, where many identify with his traditional ways.

More than 60 percent of voters there approve of him, according to the Social Research Foundation. MK could get about 20 percent of the votes in the province, the pollster said.

“He really is a magnet for people who have become alienated from the ANC,” Booysen said.

Disgruntled supporters of the ruling party do not feel “totally disloyal” in voting for Zuma, but they know it will “punish the ANC”, she added.

Nevertheless, the elder statesman’s popularity will not spread nationwide, less than 30 percent of voters see him favorably.

An Ipsos poll conducted before MK was established showed the DA and the radical left EFF vying for second place with around 20 and 19 percent respectively.

Leave a Comment