1994 was a landmark year for South Africa. Under the leadership of Nelson Mandela the African National Congress (ANC) secured an historic election victory ending 46 years of apartheid under the National Party. Mandela was, to people around the world, a beacon of hope – urging the oppressed to set aside their differences and come together to build a stronger and more united country.
Since the 1994 election the ANC, under Thabo Mbeki (1999 & 2004) and Jacob Zuma (2009 & 2014), have achieved over 60% of the vote in every election. Currently the Western Cape is the only province not regionally controlled by the ANC, but by the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), headed by Mmusi Maimane.
In recently times and following a number of high profile incidents, including sexual assault allegations and a string of corruption charges levelled against Zuma (notably using £50million public money to upgrade his personal property), there has been a growing disharmony amongst ANC members and the party’s loyal following of voters. Zuma’s leadership has been openly called into question and the public demand for his accountability is increasing.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), headed by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, have been a consistent thorn in Zuma’s side since their formation in 2013. While the EFF are seen as radical – expressing communist affiliation, calling for the expulsion of foreigners, and dressing in red overalls representing the miners killed by police in Marikana (2012) – they have given disenfranchised voters a plausible voting alternative to the ANC, something the DA has struggled to do as the party is viewed in some quarters as a modern incarnation of the National Party.
The challenge faced by all minority parties is the legacy of Nelson Mandela. To many voters the ANC represents Mandela, and principles for which he stood. In a nation where emotive politics often supersede policy based campaigning the legacy of Mandela is, and will remain, a critical factor in deciding votes.
The ANC have employed some questionable tactics to retain power. Zuma has hired allies and fired enemies to control parliament. Some serious questions have also been raised about state censorship of the media. The state owned SABC has come under scrutiny from the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa for its lack of coverage for stories with negative implications towards the government – notably the volatile student protests of 2015 and 2016.
These are worrying, but also desperate, steps being taken by a leader in decline. The ANC under Zuma is a far cry from that created by the late Mandela. That’s not to say that life for an “average” South African was better in 1994 than in 2016, the question is – for a country boasting 25% unemployment, 50% of its population below the poverty line and among worse education systems in the world – is the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and the ANC’s unchallenged rule, now stunting the social progression of South Africa?