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ANC Liberation Credentials Assure South African Vote Victory

Mandela Memorial
People pay tribute to former South African President Nelson Mandela outside his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, on December 8, 2013, three days after his death. Photographer: Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

Sinolo Msuthu lives in a shack and is irate taxpayers’ money was used to build a swimming pool and amphitheater at South African President Jacob Zuma’s home. He still plans to vote for the ruling African National Congress in tomorrow’s election.

“They are the ones who brought us freedom,” the 19-year-old school student said on April 30 as he sat on the dirt sidewalk opposite the three-room shanty he shares with his unemployed mother and two brothers in Cape Town’s Langa township. “It’s the party I like, not the president.”

Polls show attitudes like Msuthu’s prevail among South Africa’s electorate, assuring the ANC of its fifth consecutive national vote victory since it negotiated an end to apartheid. Zuma, 72, the party’s leader who’s accused by the nation’s graft ombudsman of unduly benefiting from a state-funded 215-million rand ($20-million) home upgrade, is set to secure a second five-year term. Zuma denies wrongdoing.

A survey released by research company Ipsos on May 2 showed 63 percent of 3,370 registered voters interviewed in February and March supported the 102-year-old ANC, down from 65.9 percent backing five years ago. In November, Ipsos polled 3,564 adults and 48 percent said the country was moving in the wrong direction, while half rated Zuma’s performance as poor.

South Africa’s voting patterns have tracked those in nations such as India and neighboring Mozambique, where parties that delivered independence retained power long after the electorate became dissatisfied with their performance, said Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York-based risk advisory company.

‘Liberation Parties’

“Liberation parties are fundamental to many voters’ political identity, almost independent of delivery,” Rosenberg said in an April 29 e-mailed response to questions. “The fact that these parties often have a de-facto monopoly over the distribution of state resources helps reinforce this identity.”

The ANC has also drawn on nationwide reverence for Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president who died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95, to shore up its support. Full-page advertisements published in weekend newspapers showed a picture of Mandela voting in 1994 and bore the caption “Let’s follow in his footsteps,” while campaign T-shirts urged voters to “Do it for Mandela.”

About 29 political parties will participate in tomorrow’s elections, and 25.4 million people have registered to cast ballots at 22,263 voting stations.

Welfare Grants

The ANC asserted its dominance when it packed out the 95,000-seat FNB Stadium in Soweto, south of Johannesburg, for its final campaign rally on May 4 and beamed proceedings live to stadiums in four other provinces. About half the audience left as Zuma outlined plans to create 6 million “job opportunities” and consider a national minimum wage in the next five years.

Since taking power, ANC-led governments have provided welfare grants to about 16 million South Africans -- almost one in three -- from 2.7 million in 1994, while 2.8 million poor families have been given homes over the past two decades, according to government data.

“I have no doubt who I’ll be voting for because my life has improved under the ANC,” Zodwa Ntuli, 57, a maid from Soweto, said in a May 2 interview. “I was living in a shack, now I have my own home. Our streets have been tarred in the last five years. I’m working and able to live a better life.”

Housing Lacking

Even so, 10 million South Africans still lack proper shelter, 25 percent of the workforce is unemployed and a 14-week strike by 70,000 miners has crippled the platinum industry.

The economy, the second-biggest in Africa after Nigeria, is forecast by the central bank to expand 2.6 percent this year, up from 1.9 percent in 2013, which was the slowest pace since a recession in 2009.

The rand has slumped 14 percent against the dollar in the past year. The currency rose 0.3 percent to trade at 10.5126 per dollar at 4:43 p.m. in Johannesburg today.

Since January last year, there have been 78 election-related protests, and 53 of those turned violent, Lizette Lancaster a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said today on a conference call with journalists. Sixty-one of the protests occured in the past six months.

“So far, citizens have expressed their grievances in the streets, rather than at the ballot box,” Anne Fruhauf, southern Africa analyst at New York-based risk evaluator Teneo Intelligence, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Brand ANC is the default electoral choice for many voters.”

Many of those disenchanted with the way the country is run didn’t register to vote, according to Ipsos political analyst Mari Harris.

Changing Allegiance

“There are also a lot of those who did register who are also dissatisfied,” she said by phone from Johannesburg on May 2. “Yet many say they will still vote for the ANC, especially in the rural areas, because they believe it is the only party that can make a difference because it’s in power.”

Noxolo Biyongo, 46, a maid from Cape Town’s Nyanga East township, said she switched allegiance from the ANC to the main opposition Democratic Alliance in 2010 because she was sick of corruption. The Ipsos poll showed the DA, led by former journalist Helen Zille, would win 22 percent of the vote, up from 16.7 percent in 2009.

Urban Migration

“The DA is very, very clean,” she said at an April 26 DA rally. “It doesn’t make promises, promises, promises and doesn’t deliver.”

Loyalty to the ANC may change as migration from rural areas, currently home to about 40 percent of the population, to the cities gathers pace, according to Rosenberg.

“The liberation gloss generally wears off with increased urbanization and significant economic stress,” he said. “South Africa is on its way.”

The ANC needs to replace Zuma to maintain its supporters’ trust, said Msuthu, who wants to become an electrical engineer when he finishes school next year.

“He is only helping himself,” he said. “He is not helping us.”

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