South Africa, considered a bastion of democracy since
its elections in 1994 that ended white minority rule, is scheduled to go the
polls again in just a few weeks. Opposition parties remain hopeful they can
weaken the ruling African National Congress's grip on the institutions of
power. But the ANC itself is confident it will improve on the 70 percent of the
vote it won at the previous election, in 2004. The ruling party maintains that
it's living up to its slogan of "A Better Life For All" South Africans.
However, in the lead-up to the April 22 polls, the ANC government's opponents
continue to criticize it for failing to deliver adequate services to millions
of poor South Africans. They also blame it for not stopping the rampant crime
they say has damaged the country's image.
There's evidence of a rising
black middle class in South Africa and development in previously run-down areas
of the country, but opposition parties say many South Africans continue to live
in terrible conditions, with no clean water, electricity or adequate housing.
But ANC secretary-general
Gwede Mantashe said his party has improved the lives of the majority of his fellow
South Africans since it began governing the country 15 years ago.
"In 1993, when I was serving
in the electricity council of ESKOM (South Africa's national power supply
company), only 40 percent of citizens of this country accessed electricity;
today 80 percent of the citizens have access to electricity," Mantashe told
He says 88 percent of South
Africans now have access to clean water – a figure disputed by the ANC's
opponents, who say it's much lower.
But Mantashe insisted that
his party had delivered upon its promise to combat poverty in South Africa.
houses have been built. 2.7 (million) of those have been given to
poor people, for free. That's why when you do the analysis of poverty in South
Africa, when you talk of personal income, you will see a decline. But when you
go to household poverty, it has been reduced dramatically because there have
been a whole range of social grants," he said.
Protests against lack of services
Mantashe said while 2.5
million of his fellow South Africans had benefited from social grants in 1996,
12.5 million were beneficiaries last year and that this figure was set to rise
to 13 million this year.
"That impacts positively on
the status of poverty at household level," he stated. "That social grant has
been increased consistently to cushion people from the impact of inflation over
As further evidence of the
ANC's achievements, Mantashe added, "There is a school nutrition scheme that
goes to all schools that are in poor areas."
Yet, despite the
secretary-general's statistics and his insistence that life for most South
Africans has improved under the ANC, violent demonstrations against poor
service delivery have continued to flare up in various parts of the country
ahead of the polls.
The ANC's opponents have
seized upon such events as evidence that South Africans are becoming
increasingly disgruntled with the ruling party. Mantashe disagreed, maintaining
that the protests against the government were at times a reflection of
delivery, not lack of it.
He insisted that it was
impossible for the government to improve services in all areas at once, and
that certain communities, when witnessing development in neighboring areas and
not in their own, felt ignored and thus started protesting against the state.
Mantashe appealed to the
demonstrators to be patient.
Opposition parties say one of
the main reasons not to vote for the ANC is what many see as the government's
failure to stem rampant crime, with murder, robbery and rape becoming facts of
daily life for South Africans.
Again, Mantashe denied that
the ruling party had failed in its duty to protect the citizens.
"You can only defeat crime if
you improve the whole criminal justice system. From policing to prosecution to
correctional services – that means the whole system must be strengthened," he
argued, before pointing out that the government is pouring increasing resources
into strengthening South Africa's organs of justice.
However, he added, the responsibility
to fight crime rests not only with the state and its security forces, but also with
every South African.
"Communities must be
organized; communities mustn't tolerate petty crime. Because if communities
tolerate petty crime, you cannot stand a chance in defeating serious crime," he
Mantashe suggested that South
Africa's high crime rate is often a reflection of the ANC government's
efficiency in providing "up to date" crime statistics.
"The point that our opponents
must also appreciate is that we are moving from an apartheid era, when crime
statistics were not published. Now, we are publishing crime statistics
regularly. That in itself should be given to us as a credit, because what was
off the radar, is now put on the radar."