South Africa’s ANC pitches for votes as majority threatened

  • By Damian Zane
  • BBC News, Johannesburg

Image caption,

President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa has made much progress in its 30 years of democracy

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has launched its manifesto for May elections, with some polls suggesting its vote share could fall below 50% for the first time.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in KwaZulu-Natal province.

The area will be a major battlefield.

Dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, public services and corruption have eaten away at the ANC’s support.

Nelson Mandela’s party, which led the fight against the racist apartheid system and oversaw the transition to democracy in 1994, has been the dominant force for the past three decades.

But persistently high unemployment, which now stands at over 32%, frequent power outages and high crime rates, among other things, have led some to turn away from the ANC.

Challenges are coming from the right, in the form of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), and from the radical left with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Image caption,

Nelson Mandela’s contribution to ending apartheid and serving as the first democratically elected president is still well remembered

KwaZulu-Natal is also home to former president Jacob Zuma, disenchanted with the party and now suspended from the ANC. He has thrown his weight behind a new formation – uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – which has already gained a small lead in the province’s by-elections.

Speaking at a stadium in the city of Durban, where the crowd was decked out in the black, green and gold of the ANC, President Ramaphosa vowed that “we will do better”.

It was an acknowledgment that there are problems, but he also emphasized the transformation the country has undergone over the past thirty years.

“South Africans are better educated, more empowered and healthier than under apartheid,” he said, urging people not to threaten that progress.

Looking ahead, his party promises to create 2.5 million ‘work opportunities’. It also promises to boost investment, support the private sector and “root out corruption”.

In his introduction to the manifesto, the president also wrote that “there are forces that are trying to use these elections to reverse the progress of democracy. It is crucial that we defend our hard-won freedom together.”

He did not name these ‘forces’, but the ANC knows it is facing its toughest electoral circumstances yet.

Since 1994, the country has consistently scored above 50% in national elections, making it easy to govern the country. But with some opinion polls showing that support has fallen below an absolute majority, South Africa faces the possibility of a coalition government after the May 29 general election.

Image caption,

DA leader John Steenhuisen said last week that he had a blueprint to save South Africa

In the party manifesto launched last week, the DA, led by John Steenhuisen, had a simple message: ‘Our country is in crisis.’

It has promised to create two million new jobs, end power cuts and halve violent crime. The DA wants a more liberal economic approach, including the introduction of privatization, especially in the energy sector.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the EFF’s diagnosis is that the ANC has failed to dismantle the economic system that existed under apartheid.

Instead, the ruling party has “reproduced and exacerbated the economic inequality of apartheid,” the EFF’s high-profile leader Julius Malema wrote in his introduction to the manifesto.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Julius Malema’s EFF has said it wants to transform the economy and put more wealth in the hands of ordinary South Africans.

The EFF’s response is to expropriate land without compensation and nationalize the “mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.”

That wealth would then benefit the majority of the population.

The MK has not yet released its manifesto, but at the party’s launch last December, Mr Zuma said the ANC had broken away from its roots and that his mission was now to ‘save’ the “once great movement” .

There are more than 300 parties registered with the Electoral Commission, and while not all will necessarily participate in the May elections, the stage is set for three months of hard campaigning.

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