By Linda Bordoni
The Party of Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress, is facing its toughest electoral test as it seeks to reverse a slide in support from voters frustrated by corruption and inequality, just one generation after it won power in South Africa’s first democratic poll in 1994.
Opinion polls suggest the ANC will again win a majority of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, but analysts have predicted its margin of victory will fall.
Russell Pollitt SJ, Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa, told Linda Bordoni that this vote is the first under President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018.
Father Russell Pollitt explained that it’s a really crucial election because, for the first time since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, the ANC is under huge pressure following the last couple of years of the Zuma presidency and the corruption that has taken place.
Add that, he said, the fact that “many young people have chosen not to vote because they are disillusioned with government and that a number of new parties have registered for the first time, so South Africans have a much bigger choice”.
However, Pollitt said, the play of power is really between the three main parties: the far left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
“President Cyril Ramaphosa’s future could hang on this election”, he said.
Pollitt pointed to the huge gap between the rich and the poor in his country as a top challenge for the new government.
“South Africa is now the country with the most disparity in the world”, he said.
The second challenge in line, he said, is “corruption in government and the way they will have to deal with it”.
“And the third, I think, is education and healthcare service delivery”, he said.
Pollitt said these are all things have to be sorted out “if the government is going to do anything for the people of the country and stop the decline that the country seems to have hit”.
Pollitt said that at this crucial time what he continues to hope for is a government “that is really going to care for its people; that is going to use the money of the people well. A government that is going to make sure that corruption is rooted out and that basic services like clean water and electricity are delivered to many people who simply don’t have them”.
He agreed that they are the same basic services that were promised to the people of South Africa when it became a democratic nation back in 1994.
“I think,” he said, “people feel that those promises have never been fulfilled, and in fact, what the ANC did is what the old National Party government did: they enriched themselves and took care of themselves. But for many poor South Africans, life has not really changed”.