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South Africa’s ANC Hemorrhaging Support as Campaign Begins

ANC Rally
Supporters of South Africa's governing African National Congress attend a rally in Nelspruit ahead of an election this year, January 11, 2014. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress kicked off its election campaign as a survey showed it’s hemorrhaging support in the wake of a series of corruption scandals and the creation of new opposition parties.

Support dropped by 10 percentage points from a year earlier to 53 percent, according to a survey of 3,564 adults interviewed by Johannesburg-based Ipsos in October and November. Eighteen percent of respondents backed the main opposition Democratic Alliance, 4 percent the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters led by ex-ANC youth wing leader Julius Malema, and 7 percent said they wouldn’t vote. The margin of error was 1.7 percent.

Disenchantment with the ANC over a 25 percent unemployment rate was compounded after the August 2012 killing of 34 protesters by police at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg. Since then, the party has been tainted by revelations that the state spent more than 200 million rand ($18.5 million) upgrading President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

“Political uncertainty, leadership issues, the aftermath of the Marikana shootings, the issues about Nkandla, service delivery protests, the forming of new political parties and a host of other reasons” may be eroding support for the ANC, Ipsos said in an e-mailed statement.

Zuma Speech

The 102-year-old ANC, which led the fight against white minority rule, has won more than 60 percent support in every vote since 1994. In the last general election five years ago it got 66 percent.

Supporters of the ANC gathered in Nelspruit, in northeast Mpumalanga province, where the ANC introduced its platform for the campaign today that pledged “the year of united action to take South Africa forward,” Zuma told the crowd.

He elicited cheers as he promised to create 6 million jobs through a public employment program in a country with an unemployment rate of 24.7 percent. Zuma pledged to provide 1 million homes for poor South Africans and improve education and sanitation.

The party will also create a board for government tenders and appoint an official to monitor the system, while banning public servants from “doing business with the state,” Zuma said. “ANC members and officials who are found guilty of corruption by a court of law are expected to step down.”

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The depth of public anger against the ANC’s leadership surfaced last month, when Zuma was jeered at a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Zuma ended his speech today by leading the crowd in a song from the era of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid about Mandela.

“The ANC will work towards poverty eradication in rural areas,” Zuma said. “We shall grow enterprises in rural communities and intensify the land reform.”

Maria Mbongco, a 27-year-old unemployed resident of Mkhulu shantytown in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, said the ANC should focus on creating more jobs and increasing social grants.

“I will always support the ANC because it brought us freedom and is helping us further our education through bursaries,” she said at the rally. “I think they have really worked hard to create jobs in the last five years because I have seen more and more of my friends getting jobs.”

Twenty years after the end of apartheid, average earnings for black households are a sixth of their white counterparts. About a fifth of the population of 53 million lack formal housing and 2.3 million households don’t have proper toilets.

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