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Mandela's Shadow Still Looms Over South Africa Elections

  • Anita Powell

One of the most prominent figures in South Africa's general election isn't even running: the late Nelson Mandela. As the man who led the African National Congress to victory in the nation's first democratic elections in 1994, his face is the one emblazoned on most ANC paraphernalia. While the ANC claims an undeniable hold on him, however, critics say his scandal-prone party is not living up to his vision.

Mandela has been the face of South Africa's struggle from the dark days of apartheid to the democratic Rainbow Nation it is today.

Twenty years after he was elected as South Africa's first black president -- and months after his death -- he's still the face of the ruling ANC.

Myriad scandals

But opposition leader Helen Zille said Mandela's party has strayed far from his ideals. Her Democratic Alliance, the largest of many opposition parties in South Africa, has slammed President Jacob Zuma for a series of high-profile corruption scandals.

"Well, the big face of this election, sadly, is not Nelson Mandela. It's Jacob Zuma. And that symbolizes what the ANC has become under Jacob Zuma. And that comparison is there for everybody to make," said Zille.

The latest scandal to hit Zuma, the ANC's leader, is a report by the public protector [ombudsman] alleging he spent more than $20 million in public funds for lavish upgrades to his personal home.

These scandals do not appear to have swayed ANC stalwarts, though, who say they can never repay Mandela's party for ending apartheid and its many racist restrictions.

Faithful supporters

Selina Madida is one of them and refers to Mandela by his clan name Madiba. "Before Madiba, me wasn't right to come here to Joburg. Must ask me, must go back to Newcastle. Must hold my ID everywhere where I go. Now it's not like this. Because of Madiba."

Analyst and journalist Khadija Patel, who runs the website SA Votes 2014, said many parties have used Mandela's image, but only the ANC can still claim his endorsement -- especially after Mandela bequeathed money in his will to the party.

"… it's really the ANC who still have the actual evidence of them being the actual party of Mandela. Whether they still uphold or still live up to his vision is another thing altogether. But certainly they have the endorsement of Mandela from the grave," said Patel.

Will voters show the ANC the love that they showed to the father of this nation? Recent polls seem to indicate that they will and that, come May 7, the ANC will win with more than two-thirds of the vote.