South Africa's ruling ANC marks 112th anniversary with eye on election


South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party will celebrate its 112th anniversary on Saturday, ahead of national elections that are expected to be the toughest since the party came to power in 1994.

Thousands of party members and supporters are expected to gather at Mbombela Stadium in Mpumalanga province, where President Cyril Ramaphosa, who also leads the ANC, will deliver his annual address outlining the party’s program for the year.

The ANC, the party of South Africa’s first democratically-elected president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, played a pivotal role in the country’s liberation struggle against racial segregation and the white minority government.

Ramaphosa is seeking a second term in this year’s elections after assuming office in 2019, succeeding Jacob Zuma.

The ANC has faced widespread criticism for failing to deliver basic services to millions of the country’s poor Black majority amid deteriorating economic conditions. With an unemployment rate of around 32%, of which 60% are young people, the party is facing a disillusioned electorate that is growing impatient with unfulfilled promises.

Some election polls suggest that the party may struggle to gain more than 50% of the electoral vote, which is needed to secure a win, marking the first time in its 30-year reign that this could happen.

The party’s reputation has also suffered due to various corruption allegations over the years, with many of its leaders implicated in questionable government deals.

In addition to economic challenges, South Africans face regular power blackouts as Eskom, the country’s main energy supplier, has failed to provide uninterrupted electricity to millions of households and companies.

Dirk Kotze, a political analyst at the University of South Africa, stated that the ANC’s biggest threat is not from the opposition gaining more support, but from the growing distrust in the ANC among the electorate.

In the 2019 elections that saw Ramaphosa elected, the ANC gained 57.5% of the vote, a significant decrease from the nearly 70% it received in the 2004 general elections.

In December, former President Zuma denounced the ANC and pledged his support to a newly-formed political party, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), urging his supporters to vote for it in this year’s election.

Although it is unclear how much support Umkhonto we Sizwe will gain at the polls, a breakaway party is likely to impact the ANC’s electoral prospects, similar to the impact of the Congress of the People in 2008 and the Economic Freedom Fighters in 2013. Both parties drew some ANC leaders and supporters, contributing to the erosion of the ruling party’s electoral support.

Zuma’s support base in KwaZulu-Natal province could further bolster the new party’s impact in that region.

Zuma was previously jailed for defying a court order to testify in an inquiry investigating corruption during his presidential term from 2009 to 2018. He was released in 2022 and is currently on trial for a 1999 weapons deal, where he is accused of receiving bribes from a French arms manufacturer, Thales. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If the ANC fails to secure more than 50% of the vote, it may be forced to enter a coalition agreement with some opposition parties.

The date for the elections is yet to be announced but is expected to take place between May and August this year.

Piers Potter


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