ANC Romps Local Polls

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South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) won a powerful majority in the key local elections held recently but must now scale up efforts to improve service delivery and fight corruption to restore voter confidence. Poll results show that the ANC won more than two-thirds of the votes cast, shrugging off some challenge from the main opposition Democratic Alliance and the Zulu-dominated Inkhatha Freedom Party.The loss of Cape Town, the only city without a significant Black population took the shine away from the ANC victory. Despite infighting, corruption and failure by the ANC councilors to improve service delivery to millions of poor prior to the election, Africa's oldest national party managed to win the polls. ANC is widely credited as the main rallying point for Black South Africans who still battling against remnants of apartheid-era racism and control of the white-dominated economy.

Despite the problems which the ANC is facing, the majority of the Black poor still see their age-old liberation movement as their main hope for economic empowerment, land redress and for their political survival. Blacks are still conscious of the fact that economic control remains skewed in favor of 12 percent of whites living in South Africa who control almost 97 percent of the wealth generated on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Analysts say the Black middle class is 'literally held hostage as their wealth is based on debt owed to South Africa's white dominated banking cartel.' They say it used as a buffer between the white and foreign-owned economy and the poverty-stricken Black majority. But this does not mean they condone corruption and poor service delivery, but are just giving the ANC a chance to clean up its act before the full blown election in 2009.

Next year, the ANC will come under spotlight as it moves to elect a new crop of leaders to steer and guide the liberation movement to the 2009 general election. South African President Thabo Mbeki is expected to step down as party president and as the head of state at the end of his second and final five-year term in 2009. Said Jonathan Faull a Cape Town researcher: "Internal politics of the ANC are very fluid at the moment. They have a national conference next year to pick new national executive and there is succession in 2009, these are matters already taking up attention. It means a brief window to improve the quality of life of their constituency—issues such as corruption which have been on the agenda during the campaigns, council's inefficiency, lack of proper skills to quicken delivery of houses, electricity and other basic facilities to the people."

About 170 000 people from the Black township of Khutsong south of Johannesburg punished the ANC in the recent council polls in protest of a government move to transfer them to a poorer province away from Gauteng which covers Johannesburg and Pretoria. Electricity woes in Black townships in Cape Town also cost the ANC votes. The just-ended polls represents a watershed between the politics of yester-year -liberation and the politics of today -about daily needs, good service delivery in terms of water and electricity provision and other basic facilities. The ANC government remains under pressure to fight Black poverty, where its grassroots support is. It also represents a huge test of popular opinion about ANC rule since 1994 when anti-apartheid icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela led this giant nation of more than 44 million people to democracy in the first multi-racial polls of 1994.  

ANC still enjoys grassroots support and has to concentrate its fire on unemployment, service delivery, fighting corruption and putting intra-party mechanism to nip infighting and allegations of graft in the bud for the party to meet emerging trends that might see voters becoming more discerning and critical. The bickering and infighting that emerged after President Mbeki fired his popular deputy Jacob Zuma who is facing allegations of corruption and rape almost threatened to rock the ANC boat.

The just-ended polls, if anything, give the ANC leadership homework. Homework to address service delivery -a sweeping term that covers housing, electricity, roads, sanitation, water supplies, schools and health facilities. Unemployment is estimated to be 26 percent and more than half of the country's 46 million people live in poverty another headache for the ANC government. And, despite the criticism, the ANC is still popular and the just ended polls offer indicators of what the party which is the rallying point for the majority of Blacks has to do to tread out of difficult territory.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’s Southern Africa correspondent, based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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