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Will South Africa’s poor always back ANC?

April 17, 2009

It’s one of the biggest ironies in South African politics — the most loyal ANC voters are often those the party appears to have let down most bitterly.

For millions of poor, mostly black South Africans, life has barely changed since the African National Congress defeated apartheid under Nelson Mandela in 1994.

Year after year, they wait for the new house, the job, the running water and electricity, the decent education for their children that the ANC has promised. For many, that never comes. Yet most will still vote for ANC and its leader Jacob Zuma in an election next week.

The poorest residents of Munsieville, a township on the edge of Johannesburg, illustrate the contradiction.

Unemployed and tired of living crammed into one-room shacks with no running water or electricity, they are quick to list the ways their government has failed them.

Hundreds share one water tap, which sits next to a stinking mound of rubbish where dirt-smudged children play and stray dogs scavenge for food. They dig pits for toilets.

Many say they have languished for years at the bottom of waiting lists for decent housing. They were left behind while others enjoyed a decade of continuous economic growth that created a burgeoning black middle class.

Yet almost all recoiled in horror at any suggestion they vote against the ANC.

“Half a loaf of bread is better than no bread,” said 24-year-old single mother Rahab Modise, wringing out her family’s washing in front of her shack. “The ANC is going to help us. They are taking a long time, but I still hope they will come one day.”

It’s thanks to people like Modise that the ANC is virtually ensured of winning next week’s election despite a challenge from a new breakaway party and a string of corruption scandals.

But why do those who have gained so little display such unwavering loyalty?

Analysts say that until other parties such as the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE), formed by disgruntled ANC politicians, or the Democratic Alliance learn to identify with the poor, the ruling party will face little in the way of real opposition.

“Irrespective of how bad service delivery gets, the poor still think the ANC represents them,” said Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst at the Electoral Institute of South Africa. “The ANC’s image fits with what they see when they look in the mirror.”

Part of the appeal lies in the ANC’s freedom-fighter credentials.

COPE’s presidential candidate Mvume Dandala put it in simple terms during a recent township walkabout in a township.

“It’s like an abused wife — you get beaten every day but you keep going back to this man. and deep in your mind there’s some thing that says, were it not for this man I would probably never have been married.”

Zuma, a polygamist who enlivens rallies by kicking his legs in the air and dancing on stage, has helped cultivate that image.

He sings struggle-era songs to remind voters of the time he spent in jail on Robben Island alongside Mandela and hails from a rural area of the nation’s poorest province.

Rising to president-in waiting despite having no formal education, Zuma’s own life embodies the rags-to-riches fairytale many dream of, and when he pledges new houses, many believe him.

“We like Zuma because he’s one of us,” said Vuyo Tsotso, 26, who makes about 10 rand ($1) a day selling scrap wiring. “Zuma will give us grants and build houses. The ANC saved our lives because of what they did in 1994,” he said.

But there are also hints of change in Munsieville that suggest the ANC’s grip on power will not last forever, with a few younger voters expressing a willingness to at least consider other parties.

One had already decided to vote for the DA, headed by a white woman, Helen Zille — an option he had previously dismissed because of South Africa’s troubled racial past.

“Since 1994 the ANC has been making empty promises,” said Philemon Rakuba, 23. “They say a better life for all, but they’re the only ones living better while we’re still stuck here, and still voting for them.”

What do you think? Why do the ANC and Zuma command such loyalty from South Africa’s poor? Will the party always be able to count on such unwavering support?


I agree that the ANC image is that of the party for the poor. But I believe the reason we see such enthusiasm and loyalty to the party at the moment, even though the poor has remained poor, is that most people see the ANC as a new party after Zuma ousted Mbeki.All the problems of poor service delivery, corruption and empty promises was thus created by the Mbeki elite, and Zuma is seen as the person who has changed all that and will now save the ordinary man.

Posted by dirk | Report as abusive

Hardly goes by now without Mugabe calling for the lifting of targeted sanctions or some one in MDC asking for financial aid. MDC claims the GNU will collapse without financial aid with “dire consequences” to the ordinary Zimbabweans. Of course they are lying because the same individuals supported sanctions and the cutting of aid in the past. Mugabe, the master of intrigue, agreed to have MDC join him for that very purpose – that MDC should be his emissaries to the West. The targeted sanctions particularly are hurting Mugabe and those in his inner circle and that is what he is concerned about. He does not care about the ordinary people; never did!Zimbabwe is in this economic and political mess because of the years of corrupt and misrule by Mugabe. The GNU has not changed that; Mugabe still has his dictatorial powers and continue to flex these muscles. Bankrolling a lawless and corrupt Zimbabwe will not benefit the ordinary people in any way. Indeed the move will negate all the gains and sufferings made so far.The targeted sanctions are having an adverse effect on Mugabe and his cronies. The sanctions must be maintained now more than ever before.

Posted by Wilbert Mukori | Report as abusive

The poor Blacks of SA remind me of the poor Whites of the US who vote for the Republican party.

Posted by D Sakarya | Report as abusive

I’m happy to hear stories like this. When African nations wanted freedom from “white oppression” and independence, it’s exactly what they got: Independence. Welcome to the world of adults, Africa! If you want to be treated as equals, start acting like equals and pull your own weight. Without financial aid from your “white oppressors.”

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

The ANC had delivered a lot for black people in South Africa. The problem with western journalists is that they are mostly white who go to South Africa and hang out in the white neighborhood. The supposed stories of ANC let-down are rampant in the white community. As such the western media keep misrepresenting the views of the majority of South Africans.In subsequent elections since 1994, the western media has always predicted a reduced majority for the ANC. Again and agin they have been proven wrong. Wonder why? Because they always get views of the minority white community.The reason blacks stick with the ANC is because they feel the ANC is delivering. They were the ones who suffered under apartheid and they know the difference! They dont need a white person to tell them which party to vote for.

Posted by John Braund | Report as abusive

Soon ANC will be kick out of power if they do not reform, be it 10 or 20 years. The masses are not blind and will not be taken for a ride. A good reference will be the fate of many once-mighty political parties who have fallen foul of the masses. Just look at the recent political history of many countries.

Posted by Tay | Report as abusive

Africa, like all other independent nations, get the leaders it deserves.And at the moment that means a Mbeki at the best, and a Mugabe at the worst.

Posted by Mr Smith | Report as abusive

South Africa economy is the biggest in Africa, but the life expectancy is the lowest in Africa. Corporate SA is free-loading at the expenses of the masses’ social cost.Large scale of poverty don’t exist because people are lazy,stupid or incompent. Millions of poor people languish in poverty and hopelessness due to social,cultural and economic forces.Large scale of poverty doesn’t exist because people are lazy/stupid or incompetent. Millions of our poor people languish in poverty and hopelessness due to social\cultural and economic forces. In this country, where most of our youth have to do the same jobs that have killed their fathers, life is no longer a journey but pain. It used to take the entire village to raise a child but now the villagers are running scared because the children have lost it. Poverty is to be understood in broader terms as the erosion of the capabilities of individuals due to the denial of certain rights or the manner in which opportunities are distributed in the society. While there is a general tendency to focus the problem of poverty as being the result of the behaviour of the poor people, it is also important to focus on the behaviour of the rich in terms of how wealth is accumulated, distributed or disposed of. In general, inequality is a result of the lack of proper system of distributive justice. The important thing about a social good is that while benefits accrue to individuals, the good can only be accomplished through the collective action. The common understanding of apartheid as the system that was designed to exclude the masses from benefiting from public goods such as national social safety net, right to information, knowledge, sport and cultural activities can be thought as a national social good. In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non excludable. This means, respectively, that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce the amount of the good available for consumption by others; and on one can be effectively exclude from using it. For example, if one individual eats cake, there is no cake left for anyone else, and it is possible to exclude others from consuming the cake and it is a rival and private good. Conversely, breathing air neither significantly reduce the amount of air available to others, nor can people be effectively excluded from using air. How the masses are suppose to live without public goods?

Posted by Faka di maboya | Report as abusive

people will always vote for the ANC . We will give him the go ahead because the other opposition party COPE(NO HOPE) they were in power and they did not deliver and are just power hungry individuals . So ANC will win the elections because people dont have anyone to VOTE for .


Anything is better than Apartheid.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

I am not an ANC voter, since I think that their affirmative action policies and over-enthusiastic grant handouts serve as a crutch to the poor and uneducated, instead of educating and empowering them. Remember the story about how one helps someone much more by teaching him to plant corn than by giving him a slice of bread every day? But I often feel sorry for the ANC, since people usually forget just how much work there is for them to do. Ask yourself this question: how would you run a country where more than three quarters of the population does not have homes, decent jobs, education, and so forth? And where you can tap into the financial resources of only a quarter of the population in order to support the other three quarters? Any party that ruled South Africa after apartheid would have delivered homes and jobs at a very slow pace spanning many, many years. Whoever thinks different is either very naive or uninformed about the state of the country that the ANC took over. Whether the ANC is delivering more slowly than some other party would have delivered is something we can speculate about.But if I was a poor black person, and my choice was between voting for the DA and the ANC, I’d have the ANC any day. I am a white South African, and I despise the DA for the fact that 90% of their members of parliament are white, and about 80% of that 90% is Afrikaans speaking. If I have to choose between being a poor person in a country where I am respected as a human being, and being a poor person in a country where I’m treated like some inferior being, heaven knows, I’ll take the first option any day. And if I as white person is not convinced that the DA does not represent the second option, then one will never convince black South Africans of that.White South Africans always accuse black South Africans of voting according to their emotions when they vote for the ANC. But white people vote just as much according to their emotions when they vote for the DA, since the DA has done fairly little to show us that they represent the interests of non-whites.

Posted by Leigh | Report as abusive

First, what is needed is South African politics is a credible opposition politics. Currently, all opposition political parties lack the credentials for stronger opposition and winning the previously disadvantaged majority. Second, race politics is still a very long way to go in South African political stage – it’s the way things are and will continue to be so for a good while until a ‘political miracle’ happens. Clearly, both 1 and 2 require some kind of a political school for all of us in South Africa.

Posted by eqothoindoda | Report as abusive

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