The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s biggest opposition party, is tapping the services of U.S. pollster Stanley Greenberg to bolster its challenge to the ruling African National Congress in May 7 elections.
Greenberg spent two decades campaigning against white minority rule and advised the ANC ahead of South Africa’s first multiracial elections in 1994, which brought Nelson Mandela to power. He also supported the ANC’s 1999 campaign, before distancing himself from the party over a failure by Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s successor, to condemn human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and tackle one of the world’s worst AIDS epidemics.
“My break with the ANC preceded my work with the DA by a decade,” Greenberg, who has also worked with former U.S. President Bill Clinton and ex-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, said yesterday by phone from Washington. “I became personally discontented with the ANC’s performance and failures to address inequalities and unemployment. They need a strong opposition. For me the place to work was with the DA.”
The latest poll of 2,219 registered voters by survey company Ipsos shows the DA’s share of the vote surging to 23.1 percent in May 7 elections, from 16.7 percent in 2009. That would make it the biggest opposition party in post-apartheid South Africa.
The ANC has won more than 60 percent support in every election since 1994, a margin polls show should be maintained this year. Loyalty to the Africa’s oldest political movement remains strong because of the role it played in ending apartheid and the provision of state welfare grants to 16 million people, or almost a third of the population of 53 million, since it took office.
Public discontent with the ANC is mounting over a 24.1 percent unemployment rate, income disparities that rank among the highest in the world and a lack of housing and other basic services.
President Jacob Zuma, who the nation’s graft ombudsman alleged unduly benefited from a state-funded 215-million rand ($20 million) home upgrade, has been booed several times at public events, including a memorial service for Mandela, who died on Dec. 5 aged 95. Zuma denies wrongdoing.
“There are enough voters out there who are open to change because of so much money having being squandered and such critical goals not being met,” Greenberg said. “There is a clear sense that Zuma has enriched himself. I know there is a lot at risk for people and it’s not easy to break with the ANC.”
The election will be contested by 29 political parties, and 25.4 million people have registered to vote.
Greenberg has played a key role in helping the DA modernize and refine its campaign message through the use of focus groups, according to Wilmot James, the DA’s federal chairman.
“He’s made us far more sophisticated in terms of the way we approach the election,” James said in Cape Town yesterday. “We can second-guess the ANC far better with him being here. Times have changed and there are not same people at the ANC, but he has great insight into their overall strategy which he helped develop.”