WASHINGTON — In just a few weeks, South Africans head to the polls to vote in parliamentary elections. Since Nelson Mandela won the presidency in 1994 as South Africa’s first democratically-elected black leader, his African National Congress, or ANC, has won every election in a landslide. But an ongoing corruption scandal involving its leader, President Jacob Zuma, has analysts wondering if the iconic ANC can keep its grip on power.
Voters still connect the African National Congress with the late Nelson Mandela and the hard-fought battle to end apartheid.
“Me? I am voting for them for the history, especially for Nelson Mandela," explained an ANC supporter.
The ANC is expected to do well in the May 7 elections, but President Zuma’s latest corruption scandal has some activists seething and some voters on pause.
“The leaders who are there are not there to rectify the mistakes of the past, they are there to live the good life,” said one man.
The scandal surrounds Nkandla, the private residence of President Jacob Zuma, who has three other official homes. The government spent $23 million on what officials described as security upgrades to this home, including an amphitheater, a helicopter pad, cattle pens and more.
“For example, there is a swimming pool that is being characterized as a water source for fire prevention,” said former U.S. ambassador John Campbell, speaking by satellite from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Campbell monitors South African politics.
“The water could be pumped out of it in case of a fire emergency. But most South Africans, if you want to go by the blogosphere, simply don’t buy that as an explanation,” said Campbell.
South Africa's government ombudsman, Thuli Madonsela, released a report in March, ruling that President Zuma had violated the country's ethics code by failing to protect state resources.
Gareth Newman, of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, told VOA via Skype that many South Africans are fed up with Mr. Zuma.
“At least two-thirds of South Africans believe that he benefited unduly in his personal capacity from taxpayer money, that the money was excessive, it was spent incorrectly, and that is what most South Africans believe,” said Newman.
Analysts predict the ANC will take a slight hit in the coming elections. And if the party’s numbers do fall, its leaders could decide to replace Jacob Zuma, sacrificing the ANC leader for the sake of the ANC.