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May 17, 2011

South Africans Vote in Local Government Elections; Opposition Gains Seen

by Delia Robertson

South Africans voted in local elections Wednesday many see as test of voters’ patience with the dominant African National Congress, or ANC. A few voting stations opened late, and a few others had technical problems that resulted in long lines. However, most problems were resolved by midday, leaving voters to focus on the issues that are fueling discontent with the ruling party. 

For the first time since the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994 the dominant African National Congress is facing a serious challenge in more than one major metropolitan area. The Democratic Alliance, or DA, which has governed Cape Town for the past five years, is this time also running neck-and-neck with the ANC in Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.

Analysts are saying the outcomes in those centers will indicate the extent to which voters are losing patience with the dominant ANC, which is increasingly criticized for its failure to fulfill its promises, failure to provide jobs and housing, and for corruption and poor management, particularly at the local level.

In previous elections many traditional ANC voters, having become dissatisfied, simply stayed away from the polls. This continues in some cases, such as Lungamani Mufampirane, 24, who lives in an informal settlement in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. He told VOA he would not vote again until the ANC improves its track record.

“The first thing is corruption, nepotism, those are, creating jobs, those are the things that can convince me to vote," said Mufampirane. "If they can stick on those things, I can vote.”

But observers say this time there seems to be a shift among these voters and that the turnout will likely be a few percent higher than the 48 percent in the 2006 local government poll.

They some of these are voters willing to make the emotional shift from undying support for the party of liberation to another party in the hopes this will bring much desired improvements in their communities. One of those is Vasco da Game, 48, from one of Alexandra’s developed areas, who tells VOA he is tired of waiting for promises to uplift the township so many simply know as Alex.

“I am completely not satisfied," said da Game. "If you know Alex [Alexandra township], Alex has got a big population. Most of them are unemployed first of all, secondly the houses are overcrowded in one yard just next to us, this yard here has got 24 families.  Twenty four families staying in approximately 94 square meters, you can imagine what the problems [are].”

Another voter who is weary of broken promises is Thembani Nkomo, a 40-year-old resident of Vusumuzi informal settlement in Tembisa township north of Johannesburg.  He too tells VOA his vote will be for change.

“Majority of these politicians are damn liars. They have given us endless promises, but nothing is ever forthcoming," said Nkomo. "You know there is not delivery, they have just some promises, but anyway what else can one do to give that positive change if you don’t cast a vote? It is just you know, a [last] resort, we are hopeful if we cast our votes, then that will actually give a positive change.”

But there are many voters who still believe in the ANC and who, like Amkulane Mashaba, will continue to vote for the party they say has already done a lot for South Africans and will do even more in the future.

“They have promised a lot of things, so maybe as I am a youth, they are going to provide us with many jobs, you know because after school I want to see myself working, so if I can cast my vote, that is where I can find myself working,” said Mashaba.

The results of Wednesday's voting are expected by the weekend.