South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) party received a significant boost ahead of this year's election after former President Nelson Mandela announced his support for the party (Sunday). Mandela joined Jacob Zuma who is the leader of the ruling party at a rally in Eastern Cape, which is expected to boost the morale of the party in the province. The province is expected to be a main battleground in the election after the opposition COPE (Congress of the People) party reportedly targets the province in the April 22 general election. The move is also expected to help the embattled ANC leader Jacob Zuma in the general election since he still faces corruption charges. Adams Habib is a political analyst. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that Mandela's approval is an important symbolic gesture.
"It is significant in that Nelson Mandela has given his blessing. Nelson Mandela is an icon in South Africa as he is in most parts of the world and having his blessing is something that the ANC would want. I think it sends a very important symbolic message that the most crucial figure and the more revered political figure in South Africa is nevertheless backing the ANC and still with the ANC. And I think that is something that the ANC would want to send that message, especially given the fact they have had some competition from a new black political party, Congress of the People (COPE)," Habib pointed out.
He said there is some uncertainty whether Mandela's approval would change South Africa's voting patterns.
"Whether it would fundamentally change the voting patterns in South Africa, I doubt that. I think it's worth bearing in mind that many of the people would have expected Nelson Mandela to actually back the ANC. There was very little question that he would back another party and so nobody would have anticipated anymore. So, in a lot of ways the electoral benefit would probably be discounted as a result," he said.
Habib said Mandela's approval would not necessarily rake in a lot of votes for the ruling ANC in this year's general election.
"I think it's a symbolic sign that the ANC still retains its support that the organization still has its support. But I don't think it would lead to any more people going to the polls to vote for the ANC," Habib pointed out.
He said former President Nelson Mandela chose Thabo Mbeki to succeed him on the advice of his trusted friends and comrades.
"As for Nelson Mandela haven chosen Thabo Mbeki, he did really do that. But he did that under the advice of the leadership of the ANC, particularly Walter Sisulu at that point and the previous president of the ANC Oliver Tambo. And that is why he did, but I don't think Thabo Mbeki was his first preference. And in 1997 he (Mandela) warned when Thabo Mbeki came to power that you need to be magnanimous, you mustn't be conspiratorial, and that you mustn't be deal devastatingly with political critics, you must accept political critics. And all of those statements were warnings to Thabo Mbeki, and it was a warning that Thabo Mbeki did not heed and ultimately Thabo Mbeki paid the cost for it," he said.
Habib said embattled ANC president Jacob Zuma stands to benefit in the general election.
"In Zuma's case the symbolic affirmation of the ANC plays in Zuma's favor. Zuma is the ANC president and when Nelson Mandela says he supports the party in this election, he implicitly says that he supports Jacob Zuma as the candidate of the ANC. And that is a huge boost for Jacob Zuma particularly within the party there are question marks about him. There are a number of people associated with Thabo Mbeki camp that have questioned his credibility and when Nelson Mandela comes up in his support and in his favor that will bode well for him," Habib pointed out.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Cape region where Sunday's rally was held is seen as a stronghold for the new Congress of the People party (COPE) broke away from the ANC last year. COPE has questioned the leadership of Zuma, who has been accused of corruption and could end up on trial after the country's April 22 national election.
Mandela has refused to comment on divisions within his party, which has led to some to think he sides with the anti-Zuma camp. That speculation only increased when Mandela did not show up at the ANC's main rally releasing its platform last month. Mandela instead sent a message of support read by his daughter.
Sunday's appearance by Mandela was considered his first time at an ANC campaign event before the election after handing over to former President Thabo Mbeki.
The ANC said in a statement the rally, reportedly attended by thousands, was part of the party's election program, focusing on its manifesto for rural development.
Some political analysts say although the opposition Congress of the People (COPE) party is not expected to win the election. It could break the ANC's two-thirds majority in parliament, stopping it from pushing through whatever legislation it wants.
COPE, which consists of mainly supporters of former President Thabo Mbeki, has opened up the political landscape in what some critics have described as akin to a one-party state. But investors are reportedly concerned about uncertainty. Recent ANC power struggles have hampered efforts to tackle issues such as widespread poverty, one of the world's highest rates of violent crime, and an AIDS epidemic.