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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: Financial Times by David Pilling.]

The African National Congress was meant to be different f rom other liberation movements on a continent where freedom fighters have mostly failed to make the transition to governing. Today, though, it is in trouble. Unable to bring jobs, economic growth, decent education or even hope to the black majority in whose name it struggled against apartheid, it faces an electoral turning point.

Just how far the ANC has fallen in the estimation of black South Africans will become apparent when the results of Wednesday’s election are announced later this week. Though just a municipal poll to select representatives of wards, towns and cities, it has become a bitterly contested referendum on the ANC. For the first time since it came to power in 1994 led by Nelson Mandela, the party’s share of the vote could drop below 60 per cent.

Worse still for the ANC, which maintains strong support among rural black South Africans, it could lose control of some of the nation’s most important cities. Pretoria, the capital, and Port Elizabeth, an industrial city with deep ANC roots, could fall into opposition hands. Even Johannesburg, the country’s urban powerhouse, may slip from its grasp, although pollsters suggest the ruling party will hang on by a whisker.

The ANC under Jacob Zuma, the president, is clearly rattled. A poor outcome could give opposition parties a chance to show they can run things better in some of the most important cities in the land. That could in turn affect the 2019 general election and even Mr Zuma’s position as leader of the party, which he must contest next year. A heavy loss in the municipal polls could embolden Mr Zuma’s many opponents within the ANC who are waiting for a chance to strike. Equally, the president, a cunning and ruthless political operator, could use a defeat to blame — and purge — his enemies. If the party does better than expected, he may do the same.

Mr Zuma has pulled out all the stops. His party has piled a hefty R1bn ($71m) into its election campaign. It has “nationalised” the contest — a risky strategy according to some in the party — by plastering the president’s image on billboards across the country.

The campaign has, at times, turned nasty, In Johannesburg and elsewhere, Mr Zuma has attended boisterous rallies where he has accused the opposition Democratic Alliance of “blackwashing” what he calls its “white supremacist” history. He has painted the ANC as the only legitimate representative of black interests and anyone who votes otherwise as a traitor.

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South Africa at a Glance
57 700 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.0% y/y in January 2019 (CPI) & +4.1 y/y in January 2019 (PPI)
1.4% q/q (4th quarter of 2018)
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