15 May 2014

Unrest stirs in South Africa

MAY 12, 2014 
INGRAINED loyalty to the African National Congress, the liberation movement led by Nelson Mandela against apartheid, guaranteed the party another commanding victory in South Africa’s fifth general election since white rule ended. A small but significant decline in ANC support, however, suggests its glow is wearing off. Unless it changes course to deal effectively with high-level corruption and poor governance , the ANC will have a hard time arresting the steady erosion of its electoral base.

The ANC scored 62.1 per cent of the popular vote, down from 65.9 per cent five years ago. It will have 249 of 400 members of the National Assembly. President Jacob Zuma, the focus of corruption allegations and the target of booing at Mandela’s funeral in December, is assured of re-election.

But the outcome is not the two-thirds majority the ANC wanted to amend the constitution. Nor does it deflect from the success of the main opposition, the liberal Democratic Alliance, in increasing its vote from 16 to 22 per cent and its parliamentary numbers to 89. It retained control of the Western Cape provincial parliament and is challenging the ANC’s grip in Gauteng province, centred on Johannesburg, the country’s economic heartland.

The ANC also lost a million votes to the disaffected former leader of its Youth League, the firebrand Julius Malema. His Economic Freedom Fighters party, which advocates radical Mugabe-style expropriation of white-owned land and the nationalisation of mines and banks, won 25 seats.

Mr Zuma’s credibility is at stake over the $23 million in government funding spent on his private home. He refused to reimburse the money and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is seeking his impeachment.

Economically, the achievements of the thriving black middle class have been offset by unemployment levels worse than those under white rule: 50 per cent of school leavers are jobless and South Africa is ranked 146th out of 148 on the World Economic Forum’s school standards rankings.

The ANC would be shortsighted to ignore the signs of disenchantment.

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