South Africa’s ruling African National Congress isn’t guaranteed support in elections next year and must work to make its policies relevant to voters, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe said.
A reduced majority in polls will be a “wake-up call” for the ANC, he said in an interview in London yesterday. Motlanthe, 64, said he doesn’t plan to have a government role after the elections.
The ANC, which won close to a two-thirds majority at every vote since the first multiracial one in 1994, is facing growing disenchantment from supporters amid a 25.6 percent unemployment rate and widespread poverty. At least four new political parties have been formed this year, seeking to challenge the ANC’s dominance.
“No party is guaranteed support simply on the basis of its glorious history, so the ANC, like in the past, has to go out and make a case and ensure its manifesto speaks to the concerns of the people,” Motlanthe said. “If the majority is reduced that would serve as a wake-up call for the ANC.”
The 100-year-old ANC led the fight against white segregationist rule and has dominated South African politics since sweeping to power under Nelson Mandela in 1994.
Motlanthe, a former labor union leader who served a decade in prison for fighting white segregationist rule, has been at the forefront of South African politics since he was elected the party’s secretary general in 1997. He failed in a bid to wrest control of the ANC from President Jacob Zuma at the party’s elective conference in December.
“I can serve the ANC better by giving feedback outside the hurly burly of government business,” he said. “It’s too early to say, but I’m on the wrong side age-wise” to continue to occupy a senior leadership role.
Motlanthe served as president for eight months after the ANC ousted Thabo Mbeki in September 2008, relinquishing the post to Zuma after April 2009 elections to take up his current position. Zuma, 71, won 75 percent support in the ANC’s vote in December and Motlanthe declined nomination for all other party leadership posts. He agreed instead to head up a new ANC political school.
The election, which must be held by July, will be the first time youths who were born after the 1994 vote will be able to cast ballots.
“There are those young voters who will be voting for the first time” that have no living memory of white minority rule under apartheid, Motlanthe said. “Those need to be persuaded” by the ANC’s track record and election manifesto to vote for the ruling party, he said.
Political parties formed this year include Agang SA, led by former Gold Fields Ltd. Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele, and Economic Freedom Fighters, formed by expelled ANC youth leader, Julius Malema.
“The ANC always sets itself a target of getting a sufficient majority,” Motlanthe said. “To date, that’s always been at around 60 percent.”
The ruling party’s support may also be eroded by a turf war between rival labor unions in the mining industry. The National Union of Mineworkers, an affiliate of the ANC-allied Congress of South African Trade Unions, has lost members to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, resulting in violent disruptions at platinum and gold mines since last year.
“Those disaffected by NUM may believe that NUM is close to the ANC, so by association, the ANC must also be rejected,” Motlanthe said. “But some may not think that way.”