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Corruption at the highest level: will the ANC maintain voter confidence?

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OPINION by Lauren Tracey

Over the past few weeks, news headlines in South Africa have been filled with allegations of state capture by the prominent Gupta family, as a result of their close relationship with South African President Jacob Zuma.

Despite calls from various African National Congress (ANC) members and others for the president to step down, his supporters in the powerful National Executive Committee (NEC) have seemingly allowed the president to remain relatively unscathed. While an internal investigation into the issue of ‘state capture’ by the Guptas will be undertaken by ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, Zuma has yet to be held accountable for his many scandals as president of South Africa.

A pertinent question is whether the NEC’s vote of confidence in Zuma might spell disaster for voter confidence in the ANC, particularly among young people, in the run-up to the 2016 local government elections.

A vast majority of the ANC’s voter base is located in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, with almost half of the political party’s votes coming from both provinces. Research conducted by Policy Analyst Jonathan Faull during the 2014 national government election highlighted that the 2016 local government could present a significant challenge for the ANC vote in some of the biggest metros, namely the cities of Johannesburg and Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay municipality.

According to Faull, the ANC lost votes in all three metros in both the 2009 and 2014 provincial elections. Provincial votes in Johannesburg dropped from 62% in 2009 to 52% in 2014; in Tshwane from 59.95% in 2009 to 49% in 2014; and in Nelson Mandela Bay from 49.64% in 2009 to 48.81% in 2014. These losses represent only slight decreases in the ANC’s voter base across the three metros, which amounts to 11.25%, 5.25% and 5% loss respectively.

Faull illustrates however, that when the increase in population size of all registered voters on the voters roll is taken into account, the number of votes lost by the ANC are stark: ‘20.31% down in Johannesburg, 24.71% down in Tshwane and 9.4% down in Nelson Mandela Bay’. In contrast however, the Democratic Alliance (DA) showed a notable increase over the same period in all three metros, with approximately 48.9% increase in Johannesburg, 35.72% increase in Tshwane and 35.73% increase in Nelson Mandela Bay. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also won four in 10 votes in Gauteng; a great achievement for a political party formed less than a year prior to the 2014 national election.

According to a survey conducted by FutureFact among 3 015 South Africans aged 18 years and older, support for the ANC seems to be wavering under Zuma’s leadership. The survey highlights that support for the ANC has declined from 83% in its 2009 survey, the year Zuma became president, to 67% in 2015.

Surveyed participants were also more open to switching their political party support from the ANC to either the DA or the EFF, with as many as 43% indicating that they would not feel disloyal if they did not vote for the ANC.

In the lead up to the 2014 national elections, the Institute for Security Studies conducted a study aimed at understanding the voting behaviour of young South Africans (18-24 years old) with 2 010 young people across South Africa. The findings of the study illustrate an emerging generation that is more open to change, and therefore voting differently to their parents.

As one high-school student from Mpumalanga said, ‘I think voting is very important; and it is important … to vote for different parties and not to stick to one party, because it will take advantage.’ According to another high school student in Limpopo, ‘I feel that some people are stuck in the past and not all of us have experienced what our parents have experienced back then. There should be change. The party that is ruling now has been ruling for a long time. I think we need to see something different.’ Could these sentiments indicate a turning point in the way young people will vote in the upcoming local government election?

The Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) first local election registration drive, held on the first weekend of March, saw young people under the age of 30 accounting for as much as 78.6% of new registrations. Among those aged 20 to 29 years old, as many as 5.4 million have registered to vote in this year’s local government election.

For some of these young people, the ANC’s reliance on its historic credentials as the movement that liberated South Africa from apartheid holds little weight in whether they will continue to vote for the party.

This group of young people now face challenges of unemployment and access to quality higher education, and they are increasingly frustrated by issues of crime and corruption within government and local municipalities.

President Zuma’s resilience in maintaining power under the ANC, despite various scandals, has been illustrated time and time again. What is clear is that the ANC’s image has once again been tainted by corruption scandals surrounding Zuma, and the electorate’s frustrations are growing. It remains to be seen, however, whether this new generation of young voters could present a turning point in this year’s local government elections.

[Source: ISS]
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