Cape crusade for key South African electoral battleground

Western Cape is the only opposition-run province, and the ANC wants it back

Supporters of the ruling African National Congress protest against the provincial government over the alleged lack of services and housing in Cape Town. South Africa is to hold its fourth general election since the end of apartheid on May 7th. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Supporters of the ruling African National Congress protest against the provincial government over the alleged lack of services and housing in Cape Town. South Africa is to hold its fourth general election since the end of apartheid on May 7th. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA


The might of the African National Congress electoral machine has been in full swing in South Africa in recent months, and few locations have felt its impact more than the Western Cape, the only province not under its control.

As the May 7th poll date has drawn closer, senior ANC members, including South African president Jacob Zuma, have repeatedly been deployed there to woo voters, in a bid to wrest control of the province from the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party.

Since winning control of the Western Cape in 2009, the DA has been able to use its service delivery and governance record there to undermine the former liberation movement, and to attract greater support in the remaining eight provinces run by the ANC.

The DA frequently refers to the annual auditor general reports as proof it is better at governing than the ANC. The latest of these, for 2012, shows that out of South Africa’s 278 municipalities, only nine had clean audits, and three of these were under the DA’s control in the Western Cape.

The opposition party’s performance in the Western Cape, coupled with people’s growing frustration with the ANC, has already yielded further governance opportunities around the country at municipal level.

Daily protests
Corruption, poor service delivery, cronyism and an inability to tackle unemployment have dogged the ANC under its current leadership. Daily anti-government protests across the country are a response to these problems and the perceived slow pace of transformation.

Last week Archbishop Desmond Tutu reportedly said he was glad former South African president Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters were not alive to witness the country’s current state. “I didn’t think there would be a disillusionment so soon,” he was quoted as saying by the local Sunday Times .

Despite the regularity of the protests, no one believes voters have become disillusioned enough to vote the ANC out of power. But it is possible that the ruling party’s support in this year’s general election could fall below 60 per cent for the first time.

Some analysts believe the DA could win enough support in Gauteng province, the country’s economic capital, on May 7th to take away the ANC’s absolute majority there and force it into a coalition.

While the ANC has acknowledged it must tackle corruption and improve its performance, on the campaign trail its leaders have been telling voters it has “a good story to tell” from its two decades in power.

Social imbalances
Millions of South Africans impoverished by apartheid now have houses, electricity, clean water and social grants because of the ANC’s efforts to correct the social imbalances created by that system of governance, the party claims.

“Twenty years ago we began a journey to eradicate the legacy of apartheid,” Zuma wrote in the introduction to the ANC’s 2014 election manifesto. “The lives of our people have vastly improved and South Africa is a much better place than it was before 1994.”

But to ensure it retains power nationally beyond the next five to 10 years, the ANC will have to do more than highlight its “good story”. It also needs to deny the DA the municipal and provincial governance opportunities it seeks to continue proving its worth to the electorate.

In this regard, part of the ANC’s electioneering strategy to retake the Western Cape, which is the least racially integrated province in South Africa, has been to highlight what it calls the “politics of deception” employed by the DA there.

ANC provincial chairman Marius Fransman told a recent media briefing that the DA’s tactic was to blame “everything that goes wrong on the national government and to take credit for everything that went right in the province”.

Addressing a rally outside the provincial legislature last Friday, Fransman accused DA leader Helen Zille, the provincial premier, of being a racist and of running a two-tier society in the Western Cape, where white people remained privileged while the rest were left poor. “When the DA took over the Western Cape, they sacked 11 senior managers of colour. And most of the cabinet ministers are white,” he said.

“Under Zille as premier in this province, 70 per cent of managers are still white because she says not enough black people have the required qualifications in the Western Cape.”

Friday’s march to Zille’s office, which was led by the ANC’s alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, was just one of many marches to the provincial legislature in recent months to press home its electoral message.

The march was attended by thousands of black South Africans. The protesters handed in a memorandum of grievances and listened to their political leaders deride the DA.

When asked why he supported the ANC given its patchy delivery record and the allegations of corruption against Zuma, Elliot Somne from Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest township, said the ruling party was about more than just one person.

“The DA has not delivered for black people in the Western Cape so we need a change,” he said. “I back the ANC, the party that gave us freedom, not the individual [Zuma].”

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