ANC kicks off poll season from key battleground

Published February 25, 2024
Durban: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, wearing a chequered scarf with the word Palestine printed on it, sings and dances on stage during an election rally at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, on Saturday. — AFP
Durban: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, wearing a chequered scarf with the word Palestine printed on it, sings and dances on stage during an election rally at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, on Saturday. — AFP

DURBAN: South Africa’s ruling ANC launched its election campaign on Saturday, hoping to overcome anger over high unemployment and a sluggish economy and to protect its three-decade-old majority.

In power since the advent of democracy in 1994, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress has suffered a sharp decline in support, beset by allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Yet the party remains a formidable machine, with supporters at all levels of government across most of the country, and many South Africans retain proud memories of its lead role in the anti-apartheid struggle.

“Over the next three months we will explain to millions of our people why the ANC remains the party of choice in the 2024 election,” Ramaphosa declared at the party’s manifesto launch for the May 29 general election.

“In the next 50 years, the legacies of apartheid colonialism and patriarchy, which still loom large in South Africa, will be a matter of history. Our confidence rests on that.” But Ramaphosa also acknowledged that some party members have been found wanting in recent scandals, and vowed that candidates for elected posts would be rigorously screened.

“Yes, when our members make mistakes, we will correct them, We will make sure that they do the right thing,” he said.

Tens of thousands of people dressed in the ANC’s yellow and green colours braved hot and humid weather, packing into a soccer stadium in the port city of Durban.

They had arrived from early morning, often on organised buses, proud on this day despite the ANC’s shrinking opinion poll lead.

“We were born under this political party and we will go through everything with it,” said Sthabile Nxumalo, 30, who runs a cosmetics business, as she queued to enter the venue.

The ANC faces an uphill battle to keep its parliamentary majority, with polls showing it particularly vulnerable in Durban’s KwaZulu-Natal — a key electoral battleground.

The province is home to former president Jacob Zuma, who, long resentful about the way he was forced out of office, has joined an opposition group seeking to cut into the ANC’s vote share.

Under pressure

ANC supporters at the stadium mocked him by parading a coffin representing the death of his new party. But the fact that he was targeted suggests he has their attention.

“Zuma represents the single biggest threat to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal,” politics lecturer Zakhele Ndlovu of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said.

South Africa’s second-most populous province, KwaZulu-Natal is seen as a gauge of the ANC’s national prospects.

It has the biggest ANC membership, but the party is already under pressure there from the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) and its ally, the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.

“If the ANC doesn’t do well in KwaZulu-Natal, it will not do well nationally,” said Susan Booysen, an analyst for the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection.

Polls indicate the party could win under half the vote nationwide, which would force it to seek a coalition government to stay in power. In Durban, supporters heard pledges to build energy infrastructure to end crippling power-cuts and to create jobs.

“We will do better, we will do more, and we will do it faster,” said Ramaphosa, who broke into a little dance before his address. But some said they have heard that before.

Designed to “try and resuscitate the ANC’s image”, Ramaphosa’s address did not bring any new ideas but rather “promised renewed commitments”, said Booysen.

“They make a lot of promises but in terms of delivering them they are poor,” said Brian Zama, a 40-year-old unemployed father-of-three, who sported a yellow ANC T-shirt but said he was undecided who to vote for.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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