South Africa’s ruling ANC swept aside a weak economy, fierce criticism of its president and questions about the party’s future at a massive Soweto rally on Sunday, in a pre-election show of force.
More than 90,000 jubilant and defiant ANC cadres packed the vast Soccer City Stadium to capacity for a final “victory” rally ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
The party has won every general election by a landslide since South Africa become a democracy in 1994 and is expected to win by a wide margin this time round too.
Bikers, DJs and marching bands stirred up the yellow-clad crowd to cries of “viva, ANC, viva!”, offering no hint of the turbulence the party has suffered during President Jacob Zuma’s nearly five-year stewardship.
Corruption scandals, poor public services, a cratering economy and the use of $23 million of taxpayer funds to upgrade Zuma’s private home have, for many South Africans, sullied the party’s revolutionary zeal.
Former stalwarts like Ronnie Kasrils, a leading party veteran, have gone so far as to publicly ask voters not to back the party that delivered them from Apartheid.
But that legacy, for now, still looks set to be enough to hand the ANC another thumping electoral victory.
Zuma himself entered the stadium to the sound of a military drumroll and cheers, avoiding a repeat of the humiliating boos he suffered in the same stadium during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in December.
His lengthy speech however met a lukewarm response, with thousands filing out of the stadium even as he promised more jobs for black Africans.
– ‘Rule for 100 years’ –
But this was a day for party not president.
“Twenty years has not been enough to achieve all we want,” said 50-year old party activist Nomonde Klaas.
“We hope to rule for 100 years, to fully bring freedom.”
The ANC is expected to garner 63 percent of the vote, according to the latest Ipsos poll, just three points less than in 2009.
The still-weak opposition and expected low turnout are likely to play to the ANC’s unparallelled ground operations and help mask otherwise disappointing results for the party.
Behind the predicted victory, the ANC is expected to see its share of the vote fall for a second consecutive election.
Meanwhile the opposition Democratic Alliance, which has painted today’s ANC as unworthy of its storied history, is predicted to increase its share of the vote by nearly six percentage points to 22 percent.
The Alliance is expected to do well in Gauteng — which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria — and the Northern Cape, in addition to the Western Cape, which it already runs at provincial level.
Seventy-two year old president Zuma, with a second five-year term strongly likely, on Sunday promised non-whites more economic power.
“Economic transformation will be a key priority” in the next administration, he said.
But under South Africa’s constitution, Zuma’s second term would be his last and he risks becoming a lame duck as would-be successors jockey for position ahead of a 2017 elective conference.
Win or lose, he will also have to deal with an estimated 30 demonstrations a day against appalling public services, with many citizens furious that 20 years of majority ANC rule have not improved their lot.
Although the election outcome is seen by many as a foregone conclusion, analysts say business — rattled by strikes, a weakened rand and unsustainable levels of unemployment — will hope that the ANC’s margin of victory is reduced.
“A lower-than-expected majority for the ANC would probably be regarded positively by markets, as it may jolt the party into reforming itself internally over the coming years,” said Shilan Shah, an economist with Capital Economics.