ANC at a crossroads as South Africa goes to the polls | South Africa

What was planned as a robust display of solidarity with a stadium brimming with 83,000 ANC followers, meant to project the image of a firmly supported party among South Africans despite significant national challenges, turned out to be a harbinger of potential electoral disappointment. The sight of attendees leaving en masse prior to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address at the Siyanqoba (“To conquer”) rally, signaled a disquieting possibility that the ANC might lose its ruling majority for the first time since Nelson Mandela’s triumph in 1994.

The ANC stands at a precarious juncture where a fall in voter support to below 50% could thrust it into an uncomfortable coalition. A slew of systemic issues can be blamed. Under the previous presidency of Jacob Zuma, corruption seeped deep into government institutions, crippling public services and contributing to an unemployment rate that affects roughly 40% of the populace. Additionally, the concentration of wealth among a small elite stands in sharp contrast to the extremes of poverty experienced by many, positioning South Africa as one of the globe’s most unequal and perilous societies.

William Gumede, a political analyst, emphasized the nationwide concern over crime, which cuts across racial lines, and its impact on the ability to live fully and freely, stating that it has drained the spirit from the nation.

Members of the ANC women’s league at a pre-election party rally.
Photograph: Madelene Cronjé

In the wake of Mandela and his successor Thabo Mbeki, the nation’s progress stagnated under Zuma’s leadership. A sizable portion of the state’s assets was pillaged, leaving essential services, from the national airline to the railways, in financial ruin. Investigations concluded that the ANC during Zuma’s era was complicit, even facilitating and promoting corruption.

An emerging generational divide is becoming more visible. In Soweto’s FNB Stadium, the historic site that hosted the 2010 football World Cup’s inaugural match, several senior rally-goers expressed disappointment that the ‘born free’ generation—their children born into democracy—were abandoning the ANC.

Girlfaith Dlamini recounts being ushered to the front of the line to vote while heavily pregnant back in 1994. Now her “born free” daughter, a university student, is swaying from the ANC to the EFF, a left-wing populist outfit. Dlamini’s story reflects intra-family political disagreements common throughout the country.

Mary Monyweka, an ANC official, shares a similar tale of contention with her daughter over political loyalties. She revealed a scar from a past struggle to emphasize her point, yet remains unsure where her daughter’s political allegiance lies.

A figure of Nelson Mandela held by supporters during the ANC rally.
Photograph: Madelene Cronjé

With 52 different parties contesting in the elections, voters have a plethora of choices. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is gaining traction with its record of management in Cape Town and the Western Cape. At a DA rally in Soweto, a palpable frustration with the ANC could be felt among the youthful attendees, articulating simple desires for clean water, food, and employment opportunities.

DA supporters rally at Soweto Theatre.
Photograph: Madelene Cronjé

This urge for change resonates with younger voters, tired of the status quo and eager to see tangible improvements in their daily lives.

The 28-year-old who dropped out of school eight years earlier expressed his frustration with his ongoing joblessness. Despite his ambitions of delving into the world of private investigation, inspired by local tales of bureaucratic misconduct and dubious political figures, he remains without work.

However, there is a lingering perception that the Democratic Alliance (DA) is predominantly a white party. At a recent political gathering, the audience was primarily black, yet behind the scenes, the presence of white individuals among the party’s staff and politicians was noticeably greater.

Amidst vendors selling ANC-branded merchandise at an ANC gathering, Stephen Serapezo, a 62-year-old housing official from Johannesburg, was awaiting his friends.

Members of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the former armed wing of the African National Congress. Photograph: Madelene Cronjé

He openly acknowledged the ANC’s past mistakes during former president Zuma’s tenure.

Firm in his belief, Serapezo claimed that the ANC is undergoing a rejuvenation, purging itself of ‘rotten apples.’ He also praised the government’s advocacy for Palestine in global politics and its push to challenge Israel at the international court of justice.

Serapezo would personally prefer a coalition between the ANC and the DA if necessary, citing their similar economic stances. However, he conceded that such an alliance might not be popular among the general populace, who primarily view the DA as a party for whites, regardless of policy overlaps.

Despite the diminishing numbers at the rally, Serapeza remains optimistic about the prospects of his party and South Africa, asserting that progress is being made and there’s no reason for despair.

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