More than 26 million South Africans started Monday morning 1er November, sparingly, to go to the polls for high-risk municipal elections for the party in power since the end of apartheid, the ANC (African National Congress), which could for the first time come under the bar of 50% of the votes.
Polling stations opened at 5 a.m. GMT. Only 26.2 million South Africans are registered to elect their representatives in some 250 municipalities, out of a population of around 40 million of voting age.
For years, the ANC, the historic party of Nelson Mandela who leads South Africa since the end of apartheid twenty-seven years ago, has been on the decline.
Several leaders, and first and foremost former President Jacob Zuma, are accused of having looted the country’s coffers and are in serious trouble with the law, while unemployment has reached records of more than 30%, in an economy already in recession before the Covid-19 crisis.
Vote for change
“The leaders of the ANC have not kept their commitments, they are making too many empty promises”, plague Samuel Mahlaule, 55, in a queue of barely twenty people in front of a polling station in Soweto. This Uber driver, father of four, says he has voted since the first democratic elections in 1994, but now asks ” change “.
The same desire for something else in Danville, a suburb of the capital Pretoria dominated by a white middle class. “I am voting for there to be change in the country, a better life for all”, Charmaine Barnard, 57, explains to AFP.
In July, the country experienced a wave of riots and looting that left more than 350 dead, initially triggered by Mr. Zuma’s imprisonment, but also a sign of a tense social and economic climate.
The army was deployed in urban centers for the elections: some 10,000 soldiers were called in to reinforce the police in the provinces of Gauteng, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, and Kwazulu-Natal (east), where the riots in July had started and were the most virulent.
“Clean up the party”
Years of mismanagement and widespread corruption have left many public services in South Africa abandoned, where power cuts and water supplies are on the increase, to the point of affecting even the electoral campaign.
Polls suggest that a majority of voters may turn away from the ANC for the first time. “We may be at a turning point for the ANC and at a turning point for South Africa”, believes Democracy Works think-tank chair William Gumede.
Throughout the campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa, also boss of the ANC, repeated to voters “Clean up the party”. He has made the fight against corruption a workhorse. During the 2016 municipal elections, the ANC recorded its worst score (54%) and lost key cities including Pretoria and Johannesburg.
Opposite, however, the opposition remains divided. The Democratic Alliance (DA), still perceived as a party of whites, and the radical left of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who had managed to compose improbable coalitions in some municipalities five years ago , will present themselves this time in dispersed order.
Voters will also have the choice of an unprecedented number of independent candidates – 1,700 out of 60,000 – who could muddy the waters of a poll where the ANC is playing big before the general election of 2024.
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