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The near political monopoly enjoyed by the African National Congress for the past 17 years appears to be waning in South Africa. While the ANC did prevail in recent municipal elections its margin of victory was lower than in past years. Particularly problematic for the ANC is that unless it does more to address endemic poverty and pervasive unemployment, its future electoral successes will be uncertain. Overall, according to the latest electoral results released by the Independent Electoral Commission, the ANC won control of 184 municipalities, the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 17, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) won 5 and the National Freedom Party (NFP) won 2. Of the national vote, the ANC garnered 63 percent followed by 24 percent for DA. This contrasts with 2006 when the ANC won control of 200 municipalities, the DA won 7 and the IFP won 26. Moreover, the ANC won 65.9 percent of the national vote in 2009 followed by 16.7 percent for the DA. While not a clear indication that the ANC’s grip on the South African political landscape is forever changed, the results do indicate that poor black South Africans are willing to consider alternatives to the party of Nelson Mandela. This would include giving the predominately white Democratic Alliance an opportunity. However, the DA will have to address the fact that many of its current members supported the apartheid system. South African journalist and political analyst, Allister Sparks, suggested on South Africa’s eNews, “The D.A. has cracked, if not broken, the white ceiling.” Across South Africa there is a feeling of disenchantment with the ANC. For many poor black South Africans, the ANC is viewed as taking their vote for granted. “I would have wanted to vote for the black-administered government, but I don’t eat patriotism…The ruling party has taken us for granted too long, yet no service delivery is worthy of talking about in our poverty-stricken townships,” said Miyetani Kuzumuka, while voting in northern Johannesburg.
Steven Friedman, with the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg suggested, “I do think there is growing disenchantment, directed at the national leadership and the political class of the ANC in general…But the thing is not about whether the garbage crisis or the billing crisis is resolved. It’s about ‘These [ANC leaders] don’t care about us.” The voting does indicate that the Democratic Alliance is poised to become the predominant opposition party to the ANC. While the Democratic Alliance faired well in a number of municipalities, the DA did particularly well in the Western Cape Province and the Democratic Alliance prevailed in Cape Town and several other municipalities. Since emerging from the white only ruled apartheid system 17 years ago, the ANC promised many poor urban and rural blacks that their station in life would improve significantly. While true to a point, political power controlled by the ANC insures that unless someone is directly connected to the party, employment is difficult to come by. The Economist reports, the “ruling African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994 on a promise of ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs!’ But ever since then the number of jobless, including those too discouraged to keep looking, has hovered around 30%. Participation in the labour force is a good 10-15 percentage points below other comparable developing countries. In 2004 the government pledged to cut unemployment in half by 2014. But the best it can now promise is to do so more or less by 2020.” President Jacob Zuma has declared 2011 the “Year of Job Creation” and vowed to increase by 5 million the number of South Africans employed in the next ten years. Despite this pledge, and some steps taken by the government, many remain skeptical. Moody’s Investors Service described President Zuma’s goal of 5 million jobs within the next decade as “extremely ambitious.” “However, we are concerned that unemployment and poverty persist despite the economic growth experienced in the past 10 years. To address these concerns, we have declared 2011 a year of job creation through meaningful economic transformation and inclusive growth,” President Zuma declared in his State of the Nation Address to Parliament in February. Mr. Zuma continued, “We urge every sector and every business entity, regardless of size, to focus on job creation. Every contribution counts
in this national effort.” Problems with labor market laws remain a major stumbling block to the private sector if it is to create any significant amount of jobs. Furthermore, business leaders openly argue that the government is creating more red tape that will impede private sector hiring. Among the steps proposed and approved by the Zuma administration, “employers would no longer be able to take on short-term staff save in exceptional circumstances. Temping agencies would be abolished and companies would be required to register all vacancies with government labour centres. The new laws also seek to tighten existing legislation on affirmative action, decreeing that black South Africans must constitute at least 60% of senior management by 2017, up from 26% at present. Hiring skilled foreign workers would become more difficult. Violating these laws would result in a fine equivalent to 2-10% of a company’s annual turnover,” The Economist reports. In order to cut unemployment by any significant margins the government will be forced to implement jobs programs. South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, has promised money for such projects. However, as many have pointed out, the government has not provided any details about funding. Moreover, since the ANC gained and maintained power from 1994 onwards, South Africa’s growth rate has hovered around 3.5 percent. Particularly troubling and problematic if the government is to witness any significant job growth is that Mr. Gordhan has predicted only 3.4 percent growth in 2011 and eventually, 4.4 percent in 2013. If anemic growth rate and persistent unemployment continues the political legacy of the ANC will be in doubt. It is unlikely that black South Africans will consider the fact that Nelson Mandela, who once led the party, is reason enough to continue to hand the ANC the reins of power. The defense offered by the ANC for continued problems faced by many South Africans is unlikely to be effective in the future. The ANC’s Jackson Mthembu argues, “Yes, there are problems of unemployment, health care, and poor education, but we have a huge responsibility at hand in providing service delivery to more than 50 million South Africans as opposed to the former apartheid regime that only catered [to] a few white people.” Adding further that the ANC has been in power for a
considerably shorter amount of time than the government that once oversaw the apartheid system. South Africa faces a myriad of problems from high rates of HIV/AIDS, endemic poverty to high crime. The period of Jacob Zuma’s rule over South Africa has been equally fraught with problems of its own. From allegations of rape, racketeering and corruption, South African voters might be in a mood for change. The ANC has ruled South Africa with a near monopoly over the political apparatus of the state for nearly two decades. However, despite all of the problems facing South Africa and its citizens, it is one of the continent’s largest economies. Additionally, by all reasonable standards, it is still a relatively stable democracy and some analysts predict that South Africa could experience “solid and stable growth,” according to Barclays Capital. South Africa is well positioned for expanded economic growth. It has an able and capable workforce and the infrastructure in place to witness growth rates on a par with Brazil, China or South Korea. The South African government may need to learn how these other states have achieved economic prosperity. John Lyman is the Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Affairs Journal.
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