Twenty years after the euphoria of South Africa’s first democratic elections swept liberation hero Nelson Mandela to power, the ruling party faces its toughest test at the polls next month.
Rampant corruption and a failure to erase apartheid’s enduring legacy of abject poverty have sown social and political discontent in what is one of the most unequal nations on earth.
Rocked by scandal and bereft of the iconic Mandela after his death in December, the African National Congress (ANC) is still expected to win the elections easily but could see its majority trimmed.
A group of formerly stalwart ANC supporters led by high-profile former Intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils last week urged voters to signal their disappointment by voting for one of several small opposition parties or spoiling their ballots.
At the heart of that campaign is outrage over the spending of some $22 million (16 million euros) of taxpayers’ money on “security upgrades” for President Jacob Zuma’s rural homestead at a time when millions of South Africans remain desperately poor.
Mr Kasrils, who describes the campaign as “tough love” for his old party, called the spending “obscene”.
But the latest opinion poll, conducted for the Sunday Times at the weekend, suggests the scandal has had little effect on ordinary ANC voters.
It predicts the party will actually increase its tally from 64.9 per cent of the vote in the last elections in 2009 to 65.5 per cent, although that runs counter to forecasts by many analysts who see the ANC losing at least a few percentage points.
The ANC’s continued popularity reflects the fact that life feels incomparably better for many South Africans than it did under the white minority’s racist apartheid system.
The government says it has built 3.7 million houses since the advent of democracy 20 years ago, giving millions of people their first modern homes, while some 15 million people receive government social grants.
Yet economic inequality persists and has seen poor South Africans take their anger to the streets, protesting over a lack of basic services like water, sanitation, electricity and housing.
A recent survey showed 46 per cent of the population of 50 million living in poverty. Unemployment stands at around 25 percent, according to official statistics.
Racial divisions have proved hard to overcome. White South Africans — around 10 percent of the population — remain in the driving seat of the economy — dominating the high-end job market.
A study released in 2012 showed blacks hold 21 per cent of shares in the top 100 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, Africa’s biggest bourse.
( Courtesy AFP & Agencies ……….. Source …………. New Africa Business News)