With elections approaching on May 7, South Africa faces a watershed moment in its first balloting since the death of Nelson Mandela: Will it stay with President Jacob Zuma, giving him a second term, or will it move in a radically new direction and reject him and the ANC?
While most observers expect Zuma to garner a second term, it will likely be by a much smaller margin than the African National Congress is accustomed to—reflecting the controversies that swirl around the president.
With South Africa’s unemployment rate at more than 25 percent, young people have shown a keen interest in the outcome of the May 7 vote. Their parents and grandparents are holding onto their age-old allegiances to the ANC, an organization that has been fighting for Black South Africans for more than 100 years, but the young people are clamoring for change.
When Zuma visited Malamulele, a town in the northern Limpopo Province on Wednesday, news reports indicate that local residents jeered him as he promised to attend to their grievances. This comes after Zuma was heartily booed last December in Soweto at a memorial for Mandela. And in the ultimate embarrassment, schoolchildren reportedly ran after his motorcade, shouting “Zuma sucks.”
South Africans blame Zuma for high-level corruption and his inability to create jobs or provide the most basic services in gritty townships and other poor areas.
According to the nation’s electoral commission, nearly half of the 25 million registered voters are younger than 40.
In a bid to attract young voters, the ANC has promised to create 6 million jobs if put back in power. An opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has also made a similar offer while attacking the ANC’s plans. Many young people are drawn to the populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF), which was recently formed with a promise to nationalize mines and expropriate land without compensation to ensure that unemployed youths own the means of production.
One young man, Daniel Phumutso Magidi, says he will not miss this year’s vote for anything.
“My vote will make a change because I believe that as young people of South Africa, we are the active generation because we voice our things through the social networks and platforms that allow for the government to hear us,” Magidi,22, told AllAfrica.com. “And they can respond to us apart from burning tires and all that, so yah I believe that my vote will have a say.”
Jakkie Cilliers, head of the Institute for Security Studies, a research organization in South Africa, said this will be the last election in which the majority will be voting with their hearts rather than their heads.
“It is the start of a sea change and the start of a normalization of South African politics,” Cilliers told the New York Times.
Isaac Ramaifo, who works in the Union Buildings, told the Times he can’t go against his mother and father by voting against the ANC. But he had a gloomy prediction.
“I don’t think J.Z. will finish his last term,” he said, referring to Zuma by his initials. “The A.N.C. will discuss replacing him.”