Johannesburg - South Africa’s ruling African National Congress faces its toughest-ever election on May 7 as some voters expected quicker improvement in their lives 20 years after the end of apartheid, party Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize said.
The 102-year-old movement that took power in 1994 faces the “challenges of incumbency,” Mkhize, 58, said in an April 3 interview at Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office.
He also cited voter concern about corruption among public officials.
“There is also a whole mismatch between expectations and the reality of the availability of resources,” Mkhize said.
“The question is: ‘After 20 years, how can I still be living in a shack?’”
The continent’s biggest economy is battling a 24.1 percent unemployment rate, a fifth of its 53 million people lack formal housing and 2.3 million households don’t have proper toilets.
There have been more than 100 protests this year by people demanding better delivery of housing and basic services.
After winning more than 60 percent in every vote since 1994, the ANC’s support has dropped by 10 percentage points to 53 percent in the past year, according to an opinion poll conducted by Ipsos in October and November.
Five years ago, the ruling party won 64.8 percent of the ballots, compared with 21.3 percent for its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance.
“We believe the ANC has got enough support to win the elections and to win the elections decisively,” Mkhize said.
Voter attitudes toward corruption are one of the party’s electoral concerns, he said.
An investigation by the graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela found that President Jacob Zuma improperly benefited from state’s funding of 215 million rand ($20 million) worth of renovations at his private residence in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The cost involved was pretty huge,” Mkhize said.
“What we agree constitutes a problem was all the increasing of the costs from what was budgeted to what it was, that’s really a problem.”
Madonsela said in a March 19 report that Zuma failed to meet his responsibility to safeguard public resources and that his family unduly benefited from the upgrades at his home. She recommended he repay part of the money.
Zuma denied authorising upgrades to his home, which included a pool, amphitheatre and houses for relatives in his response to Parliament on April 2.
More than a quarter of the nation’s poorest people, defined as living on a monthly income of 620 rand or less, reside in KwaZulu-Natal, according to Pretoria-based Statistics South Africa.
While poverty in South Africa has declined as the government expanded welfare grants to about 16 million people, the gap between rich and poor hasn’t improved, according to the statistics agency.
An influx of people to Gauteng, South Africa’s main urban hub around Johannesburg and Pretoria and most populous province, means the ANC will have to increase its support base to remain in the lead there, Mkhize said.
Mkhize joined the ANC in 1978 when he was a medical student at the University of KwaZulu Natal and later went into exile in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.
He was elected the ANC’s Treasurer General in 2012 after three years as the party head in KwaZulu Natal.
“He’s very influential in the fact that he is in the top six and he is also known to go way back with President Jacob Zuma,” Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor of Johannesburg-based University of the Witwatersrand, said in a phone interview.
“He’s been mooted as one of the successors for a while; whether that is likely to happen is still an open question.”
Chancellor of KwaZulu Natal University, Mkhize is married to May Mashego and has two daughters, Naledi and Linda, and a son named Dedani, which means “give way” in the Zulu language.
This year’s election will be the first time that South Africans born after the end of apartheid will vote.
The ANC has proven it has been able to adapt to generational changes and still enjoys a high degree of loyalty from young people, Mkhize said.
Mkhize recalled meeting a 12-year-old girl on a flight who upon seeing his ANC shirt asked with astonishment what it was like to live during a period of racial segregation.
“People who are going to be voting now are increasingly people who will only have heard about the horrible days of apartheid,” Mkhize said.
“Now we have people who’ve never lived through apartheid and all they’ve known is the ANC.” - Bloomberg News