April 10, 2004

SOUTH AFRICA: ANC to win "decisive" support in elections, says Mbeki

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) will win "decisive" support in the country’s general elections on April 14, South African President Thabo Mbeki said, adding a "great mood of optimism about the future" had swept the country. Mbeki however warned against violence in the volatile eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, which is being contested between the ANC and the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He said large contingents of soldiers and police officers had been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal, where about 12.000 people were killed in the run-up to South Africa's first democratic elections in 1994. "Given the history of the province and the intensity of the contest there, it is inevitable that there will be people who act wrongly. It is really necessary that all the political organisations concentrate their message against violence and intimidation," Mbeki furthermore stated. He also laid into an electoral agreement by South Africa's largest - and mainly white - opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) with the Zulu-national IFP. The agreement, said Mbeki, was "a right-wing coalition that will not resolve the problems of poverty in South Africa." He said the DA misread voters in trying to equate the ANC government with that of the ruling ZANU-PF in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where critics say the country's controversial land reforms have driven hundreds of previously commercial white farmers from their land to make way for landless blacks. "White voters are not as ready to be frightened as they were ten years ago," said Mbeki.

While the situation about the outcome of the elections in most provinces seems to be a foregone conclusion, opinion polls in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape show that there might be no clear winner. As election rhetoric grows sharper between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal, the possibility is already being raised that the two parties might patch up their political and personal differences. For now, however, IFP provincial spokesperson Reverend Musa Zondi described the tension between his party and the ANC as "unmanageable". In response, ANC provincial spokesperson Mtholephi Mthimkhulu said if the ANC and the IFP are to have a working relationship after the elections the IFP will need a "Damascus change" to prove that it is "prepared to contribute towards building South Africa's democracy".

The KwaZulu-Natal coalition government is dominated by the IFP, but includes provincial ministers representing the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. The DA and the IFP are contesting the elections as the "Coalition for Change". The ANC and the New National Party are also contesting the elections in a loose alliance. The KwaZulu-Natal election has been described by most analysts as "too close to call". They say that voter behaviour on the day - which could be determined by the weather, the willingness of rural voters to get to another taxi, and interest - will swing the results. The "Coalition for Change" is weakened by the fact that having set themselves up as the opposition to the ANC but listed as individual parties on the ballot, the IFP and DA are fishing in the same pond.

Both parties' election campaigns are pleading for decisiveness from voters as their support appears neck and neck at present. Together the two parties command 80% of the black vote in the province. The Indian vote, divided between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Minority Front, has become so essential in tilting the scale that it will determine the type of government that will be formed in the province after the elections. Both the ANC and the IFP are campaigning vigorously among Indians, hoping to win a clear 51% of the vote. Another option both are considering is to enter into an agreement with a party that collects most of the Indian vote to help form a government. Loss of the province by the IFP could jeopardise its future as a political force in South Africa - especially if it leads to the end of the party's representation in the national Cabinet. The election has been marked by particularly sharp exchanges between IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi and ANC president Thabo Mbeki, in addition in a bruising court battle this week over whether Buthelezi could or could not publish immigration regulations without Cabinet approval. The court judgement went Mbeki's way. "Without prominent portfolios in the Cabinet, the IFP will be reduced to a bit player on the national political stage and it is not unlikely that it will be gently feeling its way towards a rapprochement with the ANC once this election is out of the way," said Kiru Naidoo, a political analyst from the Durban Institute of Technology.

Meanwhile, in the Western Cape - away from blustering election victory talk - parties admit that none of them will win outright on its own. The Democratic Alliance (DA) has set its sights on the African Christian Democratic Party with whom there is "a decent chance of cooperation", according to a senior DA official. The party has staked much political credibility on regaining the province, where it was ousted from power by the ANC/NNP pact. However, while some in the Western Cape ACDP appear to be in favour, others are reluctant to be part of an opposition government. And nationally there is caution, even if the ACDP is not necessarily opposed to alliances. An all-inclusive multi-party government would be the best option for the Western Cape, said provincial ACDP leader Pauline Cupido, confirming that discussions had already taken place. But it would be "preferable to wait" until after elections, she added. "We have some reservations." The DA may struggle to find partners with which to form a provincial government, the opposition seats are filled by former DA members. Among them is Cupido, who lost out in the 2002 premier candidate race to Theuns Botha. She defected to the ACDP a year ago after having what she described as "a spiritual experience".

New Labour Party leader Peter Marais, the former DA Cape Town mayor, brings much political baggage. His expulsion over a vote-rigging scandal on petitions to rename two city streets became the public pretext for the break-up of the DA/NNP alliance. And then there are the Independent Democrats, predicted to receive about 6% of the provincial vote. The ID has been the target of the DA's aggressive campaign to gather all minority votes into its fold. Much was made also of ID leader Patricia de Lille's rejection of DA overtures to join the party during last year's window periods for defections from parties.

The ANC and NNP have dismissed the possibility that they will not regain the Western Cape. The only issue is the composition of the provincial government, which the parties plan to discuss after the elections. The Western Cape is the most contested province, with 19 competing political parties. It also has the largest pool of undecided voters (17,6%). According to pollsters, they are mostly opposition voters, who unlike ANC voters, are reluctant to declare their loyalties. While a low voter turnout favours the ANC, the DA is renowned for getting its supporters to the polls. "We are confident of winning with a clear majority should all our voters come out on election day," said Craig Morkel, the Western Cape DA spokesperson. "Coalitions will be discussed after April 14. We are not opposed to working with like-minded parties." (Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg / Business Day, Johannesburg)


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