GENERAL

‘Blinded by love’, some South Africans keep faith in ANC

South Africa’s ruling ANC faces its toughest electoral challenge yet at next week’s parliamentary vote, but the fierce loyalty of its remaining supporters should save it from a humiliating rout.

Thirty years after the advent of democracy, many voters are disillusioned by the African National Congress’s record in office, but millions are not willing to let go of what the late Nelson Mandela’s party symbolises.

ANC president and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen, EFF leader Julius Malema, former South African president Jacob Zuma (MK party). Image: AFP

‘Those who lived through apartheid’

“Before the ANC rescued us we were treated as sub-humans in our own country… we were nothing,” Gugulethu Sigcau told AFP in Johannesburg ahead of the May 29 vote.

“So there is no reality where I will vote for anyone else.”

According to the 71-year-old pensioner, black people, especially those who lived through apartheid, should be voting for the ANC because they led the struggle that “liberated our kind”.

Some households are split by age between those who remember the ANC’s victory in the struggle against apartheid and a younger generation that knows the party through its patchy record in government.

Personal trainer April, 38, no longer talks about politics with his 62-year-old mother.

“She doesn’t even understand how anyone could consider voting for a party other than the ANC,” he said.

He has not decided which opposition party will get his backing, but he’s done with the “self-serving” ANC.

But even if many of his compatriots share his disappointment, millions in the secrecy of the voting booth will put a cross by the ANC’s name – and polls suggest they could get more than 40 percent.

South Africans vote in parliamentary elections next Wednesday, 29 May in what is expected to be the tightest vote since democratic rule was introduced after the defeat of apartheid.

Poor services, a prolonged energy crisis and a buckling economy have left many citizens embittered with their government.

Unwavering loyalty

The ANC is widely expected to lose its outright parliamentary majority for the first time, potentially forcing it to form a coalition with rival parties to remain in power.

“For the first time I see so many parallels with pre-1994 here because you had a similar kind of a pressure cooker,” political analyst Sanusha Naidu said.

“There was a similar question of ‘Will the ANC get what they need to get?’”

But, 30 years on, others are still unwavering in their loyalty to the organisation.

Hlengiwe Ndlovu, political analyst and lecturer at the Wits School of Governance, told AFP that ANC strongholds in rural areas would play a key role in the vote.

“The major opposition parties haven’t had the strategic positioning to tap into those rural constituencies,” she said.

Sibongile Mdluli said when she left her rural hometown to look for employment in Johannesburg she received a free house with running water and electricity “thanks to the ANC”.

“Whether you like it or not, the ANC has improved our lives,” the 55-year-old waste worker said.

The mother of four also told AFP that she would not have to insist on her children voting for the ruling party.

The ANC’s election campaign messaging has been filled with nostalgia and praise of their three decades of accomplishments.

“Is 30 years enough to erase the impact of colonialism and apartheid? My answer to that is 30 years is not enough. We need more time,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said during the party’s birthday speech in January.

Ndlovu alleged the ANC was “operating from a very high level of arrogance”.

“They don’t see any of the oppositions as a real threat so they can’t imagine waking up on the other side,” she said, arguing the party failed to learn from other African liberation movements who have been ousted from power.

The youth vote

The youth vote could prove decisive in this election, where one in five voters are aged between 18 and 29. And many have been particularly vocal about their frustration towards the ANC in recent months.

At 45.5 percent, youth unemployment is among the highest in the world.

Yet 22-year-old Gomolemo Pheko paints a different picture.

An industrial physics graduate who is pursuing higher studies, he said his life would be nothing without the ANC, which helped his parents escape abject poverty and whose government funded his studies.

“Voting for another party won’t guarantee tertiary funding of future generations,” he argued.

In Pheko’s view, while the ANC has faced adversities like a weak economy and high crime: “People need to remember it’s their first time doing this, there will be mistakes.”

But, despite more than 50 parties contesting, “I’m blinded by love, there’s no other party I see,” Mdluli said.

By Garrin Lambley © Agence France-Presse

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