JOHANNESBURG, Apr 23 – Twenty years after the euphoria of South Africa’s first democratic elections swept liberation hero Nelson Mandela to power, the ruling party faces its toughest test at the polls next month.
Rampant corruption and a failure to erase apartheid’s enduring legacy of abject poverty have sown social and political discontent in what is one of the most unequal nations on earth.
Rocked by scandal and bereft of the iconic Mandela after his death in December, the African National Congress (ANC) is still expected to win the elections easily but could see its majority trimmed.
A group of formerly stalwart ANC supporters led by high-profile former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils last week urged voters to signal their disappointment by voting for one of several small opposition parties or spoiling their ballots.
At the heart of that campaign is outrage over the spending of some $22 million (16 million euros) of taxpayers’ money on “security upgrades” for President Jacob Zuma’s rural homestead at a time when millions of South Africans remain desperately poor.
Kasrils, who describes the campaign as “tough love” for his old party, called the spending “obscene”.
But the latest opinion poll, conducted for the Sunday Times at the weekend, suggests the scandal has had little effect on ordinary ANC voters.
It predicts the party will actually increase its tally from 64.9 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2009 to 65.5 percent, although that runs counter to forecasts by many analysts who see the ANC losing at least a few percentage points.