The South African election result not a surprise

Dear Editor,

The ruling ANC won April 22’s election but lost support from 2004.  The victory and loss of support were not surprising to pollsters and political analysts. I visited South Africa twice over the last five years and during each visit it was evident that voters were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the ANC.

In published reports, I estimated the ANC losing about 5% support in last week’s elections compared with 2004 when it won 70% of the votes.  The party actually lost only 4%.  Although the number is small, it is significant in that the ANC has been gaining support since multi-party and multi-racial elections were introduced in 1994 and the results may not be interpreted as a mandate to introduce changes to the constitution that allow for the sharing of political power among the parties.

When I was in South Africa last year, voters expressed widespread disenchantment with the ANC, including Blacks, Mixed and Indians who had voted for the party, because it has been caught up in endemic corruption.  The New York Times on Apr 22 carried a report that said half South Africans feel the country is worse off today than under apartheid – a far cry from the excitement that followed an end to official racism just two decades ago. Voters are disappointed with the government’s handling of crime and its mismanagement of the economy with unemployment at nearly 45%. Indians, in particular, complained about being targeted for racial attacks. At the same time, however, voters, including Indians, also indicated that there was no alternative to the ANC as the other parties lacked the appeal of the ANC to move the country forward.

My analysis of the voting trends and interviews with South Africans showed the ANC losing support among all ethnic groups but gaining among tribal Zulu voters.  The latter were leaning towards Jacob Zuma, a fellow Zulu, who was the ANC Presidential candidate.  The previous two Presidents, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, were from the Xhosa tribe. Last week’s election showed the IFP, the party of the Zulus, lost support to the ANC securing less than 5% of the votes compared with 7% in 2004.

The opposition parties were in disarray and voters did not have much confidence that the other parties had what it takes to govern the nation.  At any rate, the opposition parties are “ethnically” and/or class aligned, while the ANC is a multi-national party with support from all ethnic groups and classes.  But for the party to succeed, it must take measures to end corruption and govern from the centre instead of pursuing a leftist agenda and tinkering with the constitution to give the ruling pary more power.

South Africa has an electoral system similar to Guyana’s in that seats are allocated based on the percentage of votes obtained. However, the parliament of 400 MPs elects the President.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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