'Service delivery' the catch-phrase in S. Africa local vote
South Africa heads to the polls for local elections on Wednesday in a test of how long supporters of the juggernaut African National Congress are willing to wait for the promises of 1994 to be delivered.
Voters have rewarded the ANC for leading the country out of apartheid with resounding victories in every poll since the first democratic elections 17 years ago.
But the legacies of white-minority rule have proved hard to erase, and the deep inequality that continues to trouble Africa's largest economy has taken some of the shine off the party of Nelson Mandela ahead of Wednesday's vote.
"This is a very big test for the ANC as to whether it can still continue to trade on the liberation from apartheid," Susan Booysen, a political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, told AFP.
"Voters increasingly look at the ANC and look at what is wrong with it on the ground."
"Service delivery" has become the campaign catch-phrase after an explosion of violent protests over a lack of water, electricity and housing in poor communities. There were 111 major protests over municipal services last year, up from 10 in 2004, according to research group Municipal IQ.
Political parties have vied to spin the frustration into votes in poor rural areas and townships on city outskirts, where apartheid forced blacks to live and where the country's 79-percent black population is still concentrated.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has hit the campaign trail in a "Delivery Bus" and splashed the slogan "We Deliver For All" across its posters and billboards.
The politicking hit its most frenzied in what local media have dubbed "the toilet wars".
The battle began when the ANC's youth league accused the DA -- whose voter base is traditionally white -- of racism for building 1,300 open-air toilets for residents of a township outside Cape Town, the DA's stronghold and the only large city under opposition control.
But the issue blew up in the ruling party's face when it emerged that the ANC-run municipality of Moqhaka, in the central province of Free State, had also built about 1,600 open-air toilets, some as far back as 2003.
Worse, the town's mayor, a municipal councillor at the time, was a director of the construction company hired to build the toilets -- giving the opposition a chance to hammer home the widespread perception of ANC nepotism.
With one in four workers jobless and one in three people on welfare, the ANC has faced growing criticism of handing jobs to party loyalists and embarrassing reports of wild spending by President Jacob Zuma's cabinet ministers.
The frustration is compounded by slow housing roll-out in 2,700 poorly serviced shanty towns, a reflection of apartheid-era injustices but also of more recent migration to cities.
Despite a growing black middle class, nearly one in five South African households live in a government-subsidised home and another 13 percent are waiting for one.
Meanwhile, satisfaction with service delivery had dropped to just one in 10 citizens in a study of 21 municipalities by the Institute for Democracy in Africa (IDASA) released in March.
But while such weaknesses have fuelled anger among South Africa's 23.7 million voters, analysts say there will probably not be a major drop in support for the ANC, which won more than 66 percent of the vote at 2006 local polls.
Some voters may simply stay home, however.
"It will translate into people still voting for the ANC, but the voter turnout (will) see reduced numbers," Joe Mavuso, a political analyst at IDASA, told AFP.
"The vote is not going to be as overwhelming as it used to be because the ANC has been exposed when it comes to service delivery."
© 2011 AFP