South Africa will soon face
another turning point in its political life. Analysts say the upcoming
elections are the most significant since the country's first democratic polls in
1994, which saw iconic freedom fighter Nelson Mandela become president, ending
decades of white minority rule – or apartheid. And now, observers say, the
emergence of a new political party to rival the ruling African National
Congress, the ANC, will make these elections particularly intriguing.
1994, the ANC has established itself as South Africa's most powerful political
party, winning almost 70 percent of the vote in the previous election, in 2004.
Some analysts doubt, though, whether the ANC is capable of a repeat performance
in the April 22 polls. But they still expect the party to emerge victorious, with
a significant majority.
the ruling party's leader, Jacob Zuma, who's expected to become South Africa's next
president, succeeding his party colleague, Kgalema Motlanthe.
Zuma, however, is tainted by
allegations of corruption regarding his homeland's multibillion dollar arms
deal. Investigators say the likely president received bribes from a French arms
manufacturer. However, South
Africa's National Prosecuting Authority has
dropped graft charges against Zuma, on the grounds that there'd been "political
interference" in the probe into the ANC leaders' activities.
Opposition parties have
condemned the decision, arguing that the government has itself interfered in
the country's judicial process to ensure that Zuma escapes criminal
prosecution. They agree that even if there was indeed "political interference"
to ensure that Zuma was investigated and prosecuted, this does not dilute the fact
that there is substantial evidence that the prospective president received
bribes worth millions of dollars. They say the only way for the ANC president to
indeed prove his innocence is in a court of law.
'We will kill for Zuma'
The run-up to the April election has been
characterized by intense rivalry – and sometimes open hostility – between
particularly the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE) and the ANC.
Last year, some senior ANC members broke away from
the party to form COPE, largely in protest against Zuma's leadership of the
The ANC says if Zuma is indeed elected president, as
expected, and he's later found guilty of criminality, he will withdraw from
office. But certain prominent ANC members, including Youth League chairman
Julius Malema, have said they're prepared to "kill" to ensure that Zuma remains
Some observers say "inflammatory" statements such as
these have created an atmosphere conducive to election violence, but ANC
secretary general Gwede Mantashe disagrees.
point that (some) people are trying to make is that the ANC has become
reckless. The ANC has not become reckless…. Young people are militant and
sometimes make statements that can be characterized as reckless. It is our
responsibility to take them through development processes until they become
mature leaders who do not commit silly mistakes," Mantashe told VOA in a
wide-ranging interview at ANC headquarters in central Johannesburg.
'100% Zulu Boy'
supporters have also wore T-shirts emblazoned with "100% Zulu Boy" – in
reference to their favored candidate's ethnicity and in an apparent slight to
Xhosa members of the ANC. Opposition parties say acts such as this are
extremely confrontational and have introduced a dangerous ethnic rivalry into
mainstream South African politics.
maintained that Zuma supporters only wore the T-shirts at the ANC's conference
at Polokwane in December 2007, when party members had voted overwhelmingly for
Zuma as ANC president, ousting then-South African president Thabo Mbeki. The
event was a precursor to the ANC's effective dismissal of Mbeki as South Africa's
president last year, after a judge suggested that Mbeki had instigated criminal
investigations against his rival, Zuma.
rivalry) is not in the South African politics; it was within the context of the
contestation (of the ANC presidency) within the ANC," said Mantashe. "Since
then, you will never find that T-shirt anywhere. Because Jacob Zuma has no
'supporters'; he is the president of the African National Congress, not a
Zuma's 'dying' friend
released from jail
2005, Zuma's former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years
in prison for making corrupt payments to the ANC leader.
parties and many South Africans have expressed outrage at Schaik's recent
release from prison on the grounds that he's terminally ill. The ANC's
opponents say this is evidence that the ruling party considers itself and its
members to be above the law and that there is one law in South Africa for the
ANC and another law for the rest.
dismissed these claims, emphasizing that the release of Zuma's friend from
prison was at the behest of South Africa's Correctional Services Department,
not as a result of any pressure from the ANC and Zuma.
a prisoner is (terminally) sick, that prisoner should be released; if a
prisoner must get a parole, that prisoner must get a parole (from Correctional
Services). It is not an African National Congress issue," Mantashe told VOA.
South Africa's media have uncovered evidence that Shaik is suffering from
"hypertension" and not a terminal illness and that he made an offer on a luxury
home shortly before his release from jail – not the actions of a dying man, say
Mantashe maintained that no favoritism had been shown to Zuma's friend by the
ANC – even though South Africa's prisons are filled with convicts who are dying
of sicknesses associated with HIV/AIDS and who remain in prison despite having applied
Mantashe said the perception that the ANC had interfered
to ensure the release from jail of someone who had close ties to the party was
a "deliberate forgetting.