Thursday, April 23, 2009



22nd April, 2009
By Anthony Bugembe
and Agencies

SOUTH Africans voted yesterday in an election that poses the toughest challenge to the African National Congress since the end of apartheid and could weaken its overwhelming dominance in parliament.

The ANC looks assured of a fourth win since defeating white minority rule in 1994 under Nelson Mandela and will make its leader, Jacob Zuma, president just weeks after he was able to get corruption charges dropped on a technicality.

But the party faces an unprecedented challenge from opposition parties hoping to capitalise on frustration over corruption, poverty and crime, and could lose the two-thirds majority that gives it the right to change the constitution.

“We are entering a post-liberation era. People are talking about new issues and challenges and there’s also a new generation that’s not attached to the liberation struggle,” said independent political analyst David Monyae.

Queues snaked before dawn outside polling stations across South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy and diplomatic heavyweight.

The electoral body hopes voter turnout will top 80%. Voting papers were running short in some areas. With some 23 million eligible voters, a high turnout could strengthen the authority of Zuma.

“I voted for the ANC out of loyalty because my father was active in the struggle but I’m not satisfied with what they’ve done. People expected jobs, and to be comfortable but they are still living in shacks,” said Margaret Nkone, 57.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence in Zuma but we hope he will do a better job,” she complained in Soweto, a Johannesburg township that symbolised the fight against apartheid.

Many analysts believe the ANC, whose anti-apartheid credentials make it the choice for millions of black voters, will win between 60 and 66% of the votes, compared to nearly 70% in 2004.

Despite Zuma’s assurances, investors fear he may bow to leftist allies who say policies credited with South Africa’s longest spell of growth have harmed the poor.

But with South Africa in its first recession in 17 years and mines and factories hard hit by the global downturn, Zuma’s room for policy change is limited. Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, a market favourite, is expected to stay for now.

“Our economy won’t become ideological, it will stay rational,” Manuel told an Italian newspaper.
A change in course would also impact on Uganda. With a net flow of more than $500m (sh1000b), the country remains the leading source of foreign direct investment in Uganda.

About 50 South African companies operate in Uganda. These include South African Breweries, MTN, Alliance Air, Stanbic Bank, Multi-Choice, Shoprite and Game Stores.

South Africa is also a major trading partner to Uganda. Imports more than doubled between 2003 and 2007, from $99m to $207m, making it the second biggest source of imports in Africa after Kenya.

A key challenge to the ANC comes from a new party formed by those loyal to former President Thabo Mbeki, ousted by the ANC amid allegations he meddled in the corruption case against Zuma.

The first credible black opposition party, the Congress of the People (COPE), has some support among the growing black middle class, but has struggled to win over the poor.

Presidential candidate Mvume Dandala said the new party was still optimistic it could bring change.
“It is a baby with teeth. We can bite and I do believe the people of South Africa have heard our message,” he said.

The official opposition Democratic Alliance, resurgent under new leader Helen Zille, a white South African, also hopes to boost its presence in parliament and has campaigned under a “Stop Zuma” slogan, with an anti-corruption message.

“In the first years of our freedom most people would have tended to vote ANC, now it is no longer quite so straight forward,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate who has been critical of Zuma.

A frail-looking Mandela, 90, smiled as he was helped up to a ballot box in Johannesburg.