South Africa’s ANC pitches for votes as majority threatened

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his speech at the African National Congress Election Manifesto launch in Durban
Image caption,President Cyril Ramaphosa said that South Africa had made a lot of progress in the 30 years of democracy

By Damian Zane

BBC News, Johannesburg

South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) has launched its manifesto for the May elections, in which some polls suggest its share of the vote could fall below 50% for the first time.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed thousands of supporters at a rally in KwaZulu-Natal province.

The area will be a key battleground.

Dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, public services and corruption has eaten away at ANC support.

The party of Nelson Mandela, who led the struggle against the racist apartheid system and oversaw the transition to democracy in 1994, has been the dominant force for the last 30 years.


But stubbornly high unemployment, which now stands at more than 32%, frequent power cuts and high crime levels, among other issues, have led some to turn away from the ANC.

There are challenges coming from the right, in the form of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), and the more radical left with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

A supporter holds up a picture of former South African President Nelson Mandela at the African National Congress Election Manifesto launch in Durban, South Africa, February 24, 2024
Image caption,Nelson Mandela’s contribution to ending apartheid and serving as the first democratically elected president is still well remembered

KwaZulu-Natal is also the home of former President Jacob Zuma, disenchanted with the party and now suspended from the ANC. He has thrown his weight behind a new formation – uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – which has already made some small inroads at byelections in the province.

Speaking at a stadium in the city of Durban, with the crowd decked out in the ANC’s black, green and gold, President Ramaphosa promised that “we will do better”.

It was an acknowledgement that there are problems, but he also emphasised the transformation that the country has made in the last three decades.

“South Africans are more educated, empowered and healthier than they were under apartheid,” he said, urging people not to threaten that progress.

Looking forward, his party promises to create 2.5 million “work opportunities”. It also pledges to boost investment and support the private sector as well as “eradicate corruption”.

In his introduction to the manifesto, the president also wrote that “there are forces that seek to use this election to undo the progress of democracy. It is crucial that together we defend our hard-won freedom.”

He did not name those “forces” but the ANC knows it faces its toughest electoral environment yet.

Since 1994, it has polled consistently above 50% in national elections, enabling it to run the country without challenge. But with some opinion polls showing that that support has dipped below an absolute majority, South Africa is facing the possibility of a coalition government after the 29 May general election.

John Steenhuisen leader of South Africa's biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, marches with supporters to the Union Buildings as part of the political party's manifesto launch in Pretoria, South Africa February 17, 2024.
Image caption,DA leader John Steenhuisen said last week that he had a blueprint to rescue South Africa

In its party manifesto launched last week, the DA, under the leadership of John Steenhuisen, had a simple message: “Our country is in crisis.”

It has promised to create two million new jobs, end the power cuts and halve violent crime. The DA wants a more liberal economic approach, including introducing privatisation, especially in the energy sector.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the EFF’s diagnosis is that the ANC has failed to dismantle the economic system that existed under apartheid.

Instead, the governing party has “reproduced and worsened apartheid economic inequalities”, the EFF’s high-profile leader Julius Malema wrote in his introduction to its manifesto.

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), centre, salutes the crowd during the Economic Freedom Fighters party manifesto launch in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024
Image caption,Julius Malema’s EFF has said it wants to transform the economy and put more wealth into the hands of ordinary South Africans

The EFF’s answer is to expropriate land without compensation and nationalise the “mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation”.

That wealth would then be used to benefit the majority of the population.

The MK has not yet released its manifesto, but at the party’s launch last December Mr Zuma said the ANC had moved away from its roots and it was now his mission to “rescue” the “once-great movement”.

There are more than 300 parties registered with the electoral commission, and though not all will necessarily take part in the May vote the stage is set for three months of hard campaigning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *