In South Africa, the campaign for legislative and provincial elections is winding down, with voters heading to the polls on Wednesday (May 7).
Media pundits have been predicting a close race between the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, particularly in Gauteng, the richest and most populous province.
Sizwe Mchunu, the DA leader in Kwazulu-Natal province and member of parliament there, said “We will push the ANC below 50 percent in Gauteng..and also in [the province of] the Northern Cape. [This] will allow us to enter into bilateral engagements with other political parties with a view of forming a coalition governments [in these provinces]. I have no doubt in Kwazulu-Natal [province], we are likely to emerge as the official opposition.”
The ANC’s national spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, said the voters will prove the analysts – and Mr. Mchunu - - wrong.
“The DA has no chance in hell,” he said. “We are very strong there; the ANC is going to win the province overwhelmingly. We are also going to reduce the majority of the opposition where they govern in the Western Cape. And all statistics show that nationally, we will have an overwhelming victory.”
Mthembu says the ANC is happy to highlight its record, which includes government grants for over 15 million poor adults and pensions for the disabled and elderly.
“Many people know that their lives have improved in the 20 years since the ANC took over power governing our country,” he said.
“Almost 92% of the people in the country have access to water…particularly the poorest of the poor. Many people did not have electricity; they were not only oppressed politically, but didn’t have services in their communities…[Today] around 86 percent of people in the country now have electricity starting from around 48 percent from when we started in 1994. “
But Sizwe Mchunu of the DA says the Western Cape is the only province to spend up to 70 percent of its budget on improving living conditions of the poor. And he said government’s own reports cite the Western Cape as the best of all provinces in the management of finances and of government entities.
The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu dismissed DA claims that it is better than the ANC in delivering social services.
“They are terrible,” he said. “They have taken the Western Cape where they govern back to apartheid days. When you go to black townships…there are always protests there about sanitation. “
“They may have done a lot for white people,” he continued, “but when it comes to black people, there hasn’t been any improvement in terms of service delivery. "
The DA says its track record has been publicly supported by Abahlali Basemjondolo, an influential movement defending the rights of shack dwellers in Cape Town, Durban and other cities. They’ve endorsed the DA in the upcoming elections.
The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu is not impressed.
“They [Abahlali Basemjondolo] are not even 100 thousand people,” he exclaimed. “ We’re talking about 51 million people in South Africa…and support from [this movement] to us is not an issue; what is an issue is that the majority of people in the last election – about 11 million out of 47 million -- voted for the ANC.”
“We are very convinced that on Wednesday, we will have even bigger numbers, more than 11 million, who will be voting for [us].”
In response, the DA says it is doing well in the Western Cape, considering that it came to power in the province only five years ago and inherited the high rate of poverty from a provincial government led by the ANC for over 10 years.
Jobs and social support
The DA also says it does better creating jobs. The cite figures from the firm Statistics South Africa, which indicate the government of Western Cape created 146,000 jobs in the last year – more than double the ANC-led government in Gauteng. The DA also says Zuma’s government only created 439,000 jobs out of a promised 500,000 over a five year term, and that 1.8 million people have joined the ranks of the unemployed since he assumed office.
Critics say that rather than creating jobs, the ANC has continued to focus on expanding expensive social programs.
Hussein Solomon, a professor of political studies at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, said the country’s middle class pays nearly half its salaries in taxes that support these efforts.
“Approximately 17 million South Africans receive social grants under the ANC,” he said. “What the ANC has done for 20 years, instead of creating employment opportunities and dignity with work, [ it has] created an entitlement culture giving out social grants, old age pensions, disability grants, child grants and so forth.”
Corruption and good governance
Critics says the ANC has been poor at service delivery and economic growth. They say official corruption and mismanagement are a big part of the problem. The Democratic Alliance touts its record in the Western Cape and Cape Town – where provincial premier Helen Zille was also named world's number one mayor in 2008 by the think tank "City Mayors."
The party has just issued a handbook detailing how it would curb government corruption in Gauteng. It includes limits on entertainment expenses and the price of car rentals and vehicles purchased for official purposes, bans on credit cards, and on cabinet members from doing business with the state.
Some supporters of the ANC say they will vote against the party in protest over corruption and joblessness. That includes the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), which decided not to support the ruling party in the polls.
The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu says that while the leadership may have declined to support the ANC, the union’s shop stewards and other members are actively campaigning. He noted the larger federation of unions of which NUMSA is a member – the Congress of South African Trade Unions [COSATU] – is supporting the ruling party.
Mthembu said the DA has also suffered multiple defections of party members and officials in Gauteng Province and most recently in Cape Town. Mayoral committee member [Grant Pascoe] left, saying the leadership did not tolerate dissent. The DA says some of those who left, including Pascoe, were poor performing poorly, and were likely to be sacked.
Analyst Hussein Solomon said he’s concerned about any party that wins the elections. He said all have made promises to the electorate that may be impossible to deliver: including the creation of six million jobs and expanded services.
He said the global economic slow-down has affected South Africa’s trading partners in Europe, North America and Asia. And, as long as the international economy is weak, he said, South African government revenues from exports will not provide enough money to state coffers to provide support for more services, or reduce unemployment.