South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is kicking off its party conference this week amid a leadership crisis and dwindling public support. The divided party will have to decide whether to keep the current president in power — a decision that could drastically change the political landscape in the country.
In the township of Soweto, where South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) penned its first draft of the country’s post-apartheid constitution, residents say they feel like they’ve been forgotten by the party.
Aged government housing has been crumbling and a fire earlier this year wiped out several homes.
Roughly 20 families have been relocated — not to brick-and-mortar homes but to corrugated iron shacks that have no water or electricity.
Martha Meyer, 62, is among the residents.
“They just dumped us here and nobody [comes] to look after us. It’s raining and the wind blows the roof, and they say we must take our own money to fix it,” she said.
The replacement of brick homes with tin shacks is emblematic of the failures of the ANC to provide basic services, residents like Meyer said.
It’s why she and many others have stopped supporting the party that won them freedom from racial segregation nearly 30 years ago.
“I won’t vote for the ANC. They do nothing for us. They just eat the money and sit in their offices. And Cyril Ramaphosa just sit and relax. The ANC is no good. They’re crooks,” said Meyer.
The declining support for the party is worrying as it holds its leadership conference this Friday.
President Cyril Ramaphosa is facing contestation for party — and country — leadership amid a scandal over his handling of large sums of foreign currency stolen from his prize game farm.
But in Soweto, community activist Chriszelda Swartz says most people don’t care whether Ramaphosa survives or is replaced.
“People still feel that it’s the same party, it’s the same people, it’s the same principle. So, it boils down to the same people working in the same offices even though the change the leadership position,” said Swartz.
University of Pretoria political scientist Roland Henwood warns the ousting of Ramaphosa would be disastrous for the party that is eyeing the 2024 general election.
“With Mr. Ramaphosa, it is possible that they can get 50% plus — without him it is unlikely. On average, Mr. Ramaphosa is 10 to 12 percentage points more likable, and he gets more support than the party itself,” he said.
Regardless of whether Ramaphosa survives, a bigger political crisis is under way due to the disengagement of voters.
Henwood says less than half of eligible voters cast a ballot in the most recent polls.
“What we see in South Africa is what we call industrial-scale corruption. This is not small thieving that is happening. This is looting the resources of the country on a grand scale. And that is why you see the disillusionment. Probably what would need to happen is a different approach from a new leader,” he said.
Within the ANC, Henwood says there is no obvious alternative to Ramaphosa on the ticket, with many other party members also tainted by corruption scandals.
How the party decides to move forward will be determined when the conference ends December 20.