Johannesburg - South Africa’s ruling African National Congress starts its campaign today for an election this year that may be its toughest yet as voter disenchantment grows over a lack of jobs and corruption scandals.
The depth of public anger against the leadership of the party that led the fight against white minority rule surfaced last month when President Jacob Zuma was jeered at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg.
Twenty years after the ANC took power in South Africa’s first democratic elections, average earnings for black households are a sixth of their white counterparts, while about a fifth of the population of 53 million lack formal housing, and 2.3 million households don’t have proper toilets.
A quarter of the working-age population is officially unemployed.
“The ANC goes into this election to defend its legacy,” Somadoda Fikeni, a visiting politics professor at the Pretoria- based University of South Africa, said in a January 8 phone interview.
“Despite all the ANC has done in the past two decades, poverty, unemployment and corruption seem to still dominate as issues.”
The ANC will focus its fightback on proposals to create jobs, especially for young people, and implementation of its programs to expand the economy by investing in new power and transportation projects, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told reporters on January 7.
The party will highlight its success in extending welfare grants to almost a third of the population, providing free housing and electricity to the poor and boosting school pass rates to a record.
Zuma, who’s led the ANC since 2007, will outline its election manifesto at a banquet in the northern town of Nelspruit late today and at a rally there tomorrow.
The ANC has been tainted by revelations that the state spent more than 200 million rand ($18.5 million) upgrading Zuma’s private home in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, while an Indian family with whom he is friends used an air force base to transport guests to a wedding in violation of military protocol.
The imposition of tolls on highways around Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital, has added to the disgruntlement.
“The government keeps saying everything is for the people but the fact that Zuma built a private clinic at his residence in Nkandla contradicts that,” said Nonsikelelo Dube, a 38-year- old mother of two who lives in the Freedom Park shantytown south of Johannesburg.
“The community there needs those resources and yet he keeps them for his family. The president has to answer for that.”
The 102-year-old ANC has won more than 60 percent support in every vote since 1994 and 66 percent in the last general election.
In this year’s ballot, which must be held by July, the party’s support may drop to as low as 55 percent, Fikeni said.
“It could be a challenging election because of some of the perceived and real problems within the ANC itself,” he said.
“Even those who are loyal to the ANC may have some misgivings about the party’s leadership.”
Last month the nation’s biggest labor group, the 338,000- member National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, withdrew electoral support for the ANC because of differences over economic policy and called for Zuma’s resignation.
Besides the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which won 17 percent in 2009, contenders this year include Agang SA, founded by ex-World Bank Managing Director Mamphela Ramphele, and the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema.
He’s pushing for the state seizure of mines and banks.
Mandela’s death at the age of 95 on Dec. 5 prompted many people to compare their current leaders to a man who spent 27 years in prison for fighting the apartheid government and won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for negotiating a peaceful transition to democracy.
Zuma, 71, became the nation’s president in 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him for allegedly taking bribes from arms dealers.
A polygamist with four wives, Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006 and has fathered a child with a friend’s daughter.
The death of Mandela “led to considerable national and international reflection on the status of political, economic and societal progress achieved in South Africa over the past 20 years,” Kristin Lindow, senior vice president of Moody’s Investors Service in New York, said in an e-mailed report on January 6.
“The introspection has focused particularly on the quality of the country’s leadership.”
Moody’s cut South Africa’s credit rating to Baa1 in September 2012 as a series of mining strikes curbed economic growth and the government budget deficit widened more than targeted.
The rand weakened 0.1 percent to 10.8110 per dollar as of 8:52 a.m. in Johannesburg, extending losses since the beginning of 2013 to 22 percent, the worst performer of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
The currency slumped as much as much as 0.6 percent to 10.8353 per dollar yesterday, the worst intraday level since October 2008.
In 2012, police fired on striking miners at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mine, killing at least 34 people, in some of the worst violence since the end of apartheid.
The ANC has stood by Zuma, saying he played no role in authorising upgrades to his home, which included a pool, amphitheatre and houses for relatives, or the use of the Waterkloof Air Force base by the Gupta family.
In November, the Auditor-General’s office said an audit of 450 government departments and entities uncovered 30.8 billion rand in irregular, unauthorised or wasteful expenditure last year, up from 30 billion rand the year before.
“I have lost hope in the ANC,” S’khwala Mashikila, a 49-year-old taxi driver, said in a January 7 interview in Johannesburg.
“It seems like by voting we are just getting people into the positions they want so they can spend money and forget about what we need.” - Bloomberg News