Pretoria - With just two weeks before South Africans cast their votes in the tightly-contested May 8 general elections, Gauteng province's 18 176 square metres of heavily populated land area has been extensively crisscrossed by politicians soliciting votes.
Zooming in on South Africa's richest province which single-handedly contributes a third of the national Gross Domestic Product, figures provided by Statistics SA show that the most populous Gauteng province is home to a staggering 14 million people - undoubtedly a fertile ground for the politician as May 8 looms.
Last year, the opposition Democratic Alliance announced the then Tshwane mayor Solly Msimanga as its Gauteng premier candidate to tackle the incumbent Gauteng Premier David Makhura, who is also the governing African National Congress' provincial chairperson.
With the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters outfit not fielding any premier candidates because the party "does not believe in the separation of South Africa based on the nine provinces", the bruising battle royale to be the Gauteng premier after May 8 has been left to Msimanga and Makhura - with no love lost between the two. They previously squared off vocally in their roles as mayor and premier respectively.
Respected political analyst Lukhona Mnguni told African News Agency (ANA) that in this ongoing rigorous campaigning phase, there is no certainty that the ANC will maintain its stranglehold on Gauteng after May 8 - a prospect which spurs on the ambitious opposition.
"In each election, political parties are to bring out their best. What is clear however is that the ANC is quite aware that the battle is on in Gauteng. There is no clear indication that the party will return as a governing party post May 8 elections. This creates enthusiasm for the opposition to invest a lot of its campaign energies and resources for the battle of Gauteng, Africa's economic hub," said Mnguni.
He said considering the setting and context of Gauteng, top of the voter's agenda includes issues of land rights, a highly priced commodity in the country's smallest province geographically. Considering that the majority of people in Gauteng are economically active, matters of bread and butter will also influence the voter.
"The immediate challenge in such a place are issues of urban land rights and ease of mobility within the province. E-tolls remain significantly important to Gauteng residents because they have the potential to limit (due to costs) their ability for ease of mobility as those with cars would incur a higher cost to get around," said Mnguni.
"Public transport should also be a pressing issue for voters in Gauteng, yet it features very minimally on the campaign trail. It seems everyone has taken for granted the transportation arrangements that prevail. Cost of living in general will bother Gautengers, from the price of fuel to the price of goods on the shelves."
Mnguni said undoubtedly, Gauteng residents, because they have a higher concentration of tax payers living among them, the concerns around malfeasance in the state are a deciding point.
"The management of state resources is more important to this constituency whereas in a constituency such as the Eastern Cape where poverty levels are high and dependency ratios extremely high, the concern might be about the availability of public goods derived from the state resources.
"Those who view Gauteng as an economic hub but are struggling to set up their businesses, because of certain monopolies that dominate some of the economic sectors, might feel a need to worry about competition policies. This means political parties need to be heard championing strategies on how to open up the environment for doing business to SMMEs and professionals who wish to leave their jobs and start independent ventures but lack funding and access to the markets, locally and globally," said Mnguni.
On the question of who will likely emerge victorious, taking charge of the province which houses the seat of the South African government, and other critical components of the State, Mnguni said Gauteng could be on the verge of a difficult coalition arrangement.
"The possibility of a coalition government remains possible in Gauteng. This means no one would have won the heart of Gauteng, a few would have to share on pieces of the province's heart. What is extremely difficult is the nature of the coalitions. There is higher likelihood to see the arrangements prevailing in the cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane. However, for this to happen, the DA might have to let go of one of the Metros (most likely Tshwane) to the EFF to govern, with the support of the DA," he said.
Mnguni said it remains to be seen if "the Ramaphosa effect" will turn the tide for the ANC, which has consistently experienced declines in previous elections.
"Could it be that the Ramaphosa effect has been enough to get ANC voters out of their 2014 and 2016 slumber and make them return to the polls to give a convincing mandate to the ANC? Only time will tell. But for the last 10 years the ANC has been on a downward electoral trend. So the elections themselves will tell," he said as a parting shot.
Although the ANC did not respond to questions, the DA's Msimanga - who has been on whirlwind tours across the province, begging for votes, after he resigned as Tshwane mayor - told African News Agency in Pretoria that victory is certain.
"We are definitely going to win Gauteng. We are being received well in all the areas that we have been campaigning. Gauteng residents are tired of a lack of service delivery, corruption and empty promises. Some of the Gauteng residents who are experiencing the DA government in Gauteng believe in us and are committed that we will bring change in Gauteng," said the emphatic Msimanga.
South Africa goes to the elections early next month, in the first national elections since President Cyril Ramaphosa took over the reins from Jacob Zuma, whose almost two-term presidency was marred by one rent-seeking scandal after the next.
Ramaphosa has inherited a governing party riddled by internal tensions but he has ushered a "new dawn" which some analysts believe will contribute positively to the ANC's fortunes at the polls.
African News Agency/ANA