Elections in South Africa: How Mandela's once revered ANC lost its way

Cape Town, South Africa — For years, the African National Congress stood above politics in South Africa. It was a movement dedicated to liberating black people from the oppression of the white minority government and to the lofty principle of democracy, equality and a better life for all South Africans.

It was widely revered as a force for good under Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to the apartheid system of racial segregation.

But thirty years after the ANC transformed from a liberation organization to a political party in government at the end of apartheid in 1994, it is facing growing dissatisfaction from South Africans who feel it has not kept its promises.

South Africans will vote on May 29 in a national election that could be the biggest rejection yet of the ANC, which has ruled one of Africa's most important countries largely unchallenged since it led the fight to abolish apartheid.

Now for many the ANC is a synonym for bribery and a failed government. This is how the famous party lost its way:

While the end of apartheid gave every South African the right to vote and other fundamental freedoms, the challenge for the ANC was to translate that into a better life, especially for the black majority who had been systematically oppressed.

That is difficult for the ANC government to maintain, after some early success in raising living standards in its first decade in power. Today, South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, continues to rank as one of the most unequal countries, and widespread poverty – which still disproportionately affects black people – has led to the most criticism of the three decades the ANC is in power. .

The ANC has often highlighted the difficulties in undoing almost half a century of racist laws under apartheid and hundreds of years of European colonialism before that, which left millions of people living in poverty. It claims that South Africa is a better country than it was under apartheid, and that is undoubtedly true.

But the most pressing issues for many South Africans in 2024 boil down to the failure of basic government services, with communities across the country regularly protesting the lack of electricity in their neighborhoods, broken or non-existent water and sewerage systems , and waste piling up on the streets. , and a shortage of good housing that leaves millions living in shacks.

With about half of South Africa's population of 62 million living below the poverty line, ANC officials are involved in enriching themselves in a succession of corruption scandals, according to the World Bank.

It is alleged that corruption was particularly bad under former president Jacob Zuma, who was accused of orchestrating a decade of rampant corruption before resigning in disgrace in 2018.

There were numerous stories of misconduct, with politicians receiving bribes in exchange for influence or lucrative state contracts, while a culture of bribery permeated all levels of government. South Africans heard how senior ANC figures were said to have received money to buy expensive suits, throw lavish parties or renovate their homes.

The disappearance of $15 million earmarked for the removal of harmful asbestos from poor people's homes was one of several cases that outraged the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to clean up the ANC when he succeeded Zuma, but he was embroiled in his own scandal and survived an impeachment vote.

The ANC's reputation has not been restored.

The ANC has been dogged by infighting since Mandela resigned as president in 1999 after one term in office and handed the office to a younger generation.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki, was forced to leave because Zuma undermined his position as head of the ANC. The party turned against Zuma, who has been barred from running in next week's elections, as allegations of corruption became overwhelming.

Ramaphosa has spent his first term as president since 2019 battling a section of the party still loyal to Zuma. In its early days, the ANC celebrated being a 'broad church' of people committed to freedom and democracy. The party now has factions that exist like any other political party, and these affect its ability to solve South Africa's problems.

From a position of dominance when it once had 70% of the vote, the ANC has seen people gradually abandon it, especially among a new generation of South Africans who no longer remember apartheid.

The election is widely expected to be a milestone for the country's post-apartheid democracy as recent opinion polls have the ANC's support at less than 50%, suggesting the country could lose its parliamentary majority for the first time .

The ANC is still expected to be the largest party, but a drop below 50% would mean it would have to govern in a coalition with others.

That would be the biggest political shift in South Africa since the ANC came into government, and a humiliating moment for a party that Zuma once said would rule “until Jesus comes back.”

___

AP Africa News: https://apnews.com/hub/africa

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