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South Africa’s ANC: Brand loyalty?

South Africa’s ANC: Brand loyalty?

Was the ANC’s sweeping election victory last month a vote of confidence in the party’s current leadership or loyalty to Nelson Mandela’s political organisation? Despite the size of its victory, the ANC lost more than a million votes to other parties this time around. What can we read into all this? Tom Nevin reports from Johannesburg.

There’s no gainsaying the power of a well-established brand, and South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) political party unequivocally proved the point by easily winning the 7th May national elections. 

Despite widespread disaffection with the country’s political top leaders, money-wasting scandals, dwindling social delivery, rising crime and an Education Ministry in tatters, Africa’s oldest political party pocketed 62% of the votes cast against second-placed Democratic
Alliance with 22%. 

In numerical terms, the ANC attracted 11.4m votes as opposed to the Democratic Alliance’s 4m in a ballot that attracted 18.6m of the 25.4m registered South African voters. Just over 250,000 votes were adjudged spoilt papers, a number of these probably a response to a call by renegade ANC MPs for voters to register their opposition to growing corruption in the government.

The ANC was punished most heavily in Gauteng, South Africa’s richest and most populous province, even though it is the smallest. There the ruling party lost heavily to the opposition, conceding just over 10% of the provincial vote, mainly to the DA and EFF. The ANC’s majority in Gauteng is a precarious 53.6%, down from 64% in 2009. 

“The electorate still gives the ANC broad credit,” notes researcher Jonathan Katzenellenbogen. “In Johannesburg, results show that the ANC did particularly well in Soweto, parts of which bear little resemblance to their condition 20 years ago. Almost all roads are tarred.

There are countless new RDP (reconstruction and development programme) houses, lighting, upgraded schools, clinics, and grassed parks with playgrounds, and even malls. There are free clinics, social grants, free schooling and free students’ uniforms. Some Sowetans vote ANC simply because they are proud to have a black government.”

Just as the polls were accurate in their summing up of the ballot outcome, it patently had little to do with ANC voters’ attitude to the current party leadership.

“I voted ANC,” insisted Gladys Sedibeng, matriarch of an extended family in the township of Alexandra, just a stone’s throw from the rich business area and leafy suburb of Sandton. “I did not vote for Zuma or Mantashe or Ramaphosa. I voted for my party.”

It seems that the most of party faithful chose to forgive or ignore the R220m ($22m) upgrade the taxpayer spent on President Zuma’s private home, and turned a blind eye to corruption in high places and shenanigans in various government departments. Voters were not as gracious in Gauteng.  

“This election victory has reconfirmed just how deeply rooted the ANC is in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of South Africans,” said President Jacob Zuma in his victory speech, endorsing, probably unintentionally, the generally held view that it was the ANC that had won the elections and that its leaders had gone along for the ride.

Be that as it may. The election was also a reminder that political parties are players in a passing parade and that their times come and go. Two of South Africa’s oldest pioneer liberation groups, Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and Azania People’s Organisation (Azapo) could not attract enough voter support to retain a presence in the House and will disappear from public life. The PAC’s demise was helped along by the terminal condition that affects many a political party – leadership squabbles.

The big winner, however, was the ANC brand.   

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Written by Tom Nevin

Tom Nevin is a South African journalist, researcher and author and contributes to a selection of publications in South Africa and abroad. He is associate editor of London-based African Business and editor of Business Word Botswana. He is leading a programme that actively promotes small and micro power projects as a first step in encouraging the economic upliftment of the continent rural poor.

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