Zuma hits the road ahead of key local polls
Highlighting how high the stakes are in next month’s local elections, South African President Jacob Zuma himself took to the stump this week in a township rocked by anti-government protests in June.
“On the third of August, we must all vote ANC,” Zuma on Tuesday told a 1,000-strong crowd in Hammanskraal on the outskirts of Pretoria, referring to the African National Congress. The ANC has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Zuma said it would be “embarrassing” if “other parties” took control of municipalities in Gauteng province which encompasses Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) hopes to make major gains in the August 3 polls by tapping into widespread discontent with the state of the country in general and with Zuma in particular.
The DA is polling 20 points ahead of the ANC in Tshwane, the metropolitan area that includes the capital and surrounding townships.
– ‘Sick and tired of lies’ –
DA leader Mmusi Maimane has described the elections as “a referendum on the future of our country… an opportunity to send a message to President Zuma and the ANC that we are sick and tired of their lies.”
In late June, five people were killed during protests in traditionally ANC-stronghold townships around Pretoria.
Residents said they were angry about the mayoral candidate the ANC selected for Tshwane, a woman they regarded as an outsider.
But some who gathered to hear Zuma in Hammanskraal were in a less hostile mood on Tuesday.
“There were some riots to have another candidate,” said Macy Maake, 41.
“But we are following what ANC is telling us. We are still 100 percent behind the president,” added Maake.
Hammanskraal, where 99 percent of the population is black, epitomises the limits of South Africa’s post-apartheid transformation: only a third of residents have running water, two-thirds have electricity and just one in 10 have a university degree.
According to Judith February, a researcher with the Institute of Security Studies, “people protested not to destroy the ANC but to improve their lives.”
– ‘A close race’ –
Wearing a leather jacket of yellow and gold — the ruling party’s official colours — a relaxed-looking Zuma told the crowd: “As the ANC, we fought and sacrificed for democracy. We must defend it. Tshwane is the home of the ANC. We must keep it in our hands.”
Campaigning alongside Zuma, Sports Minister and ANC heavyweight Fikile Mbalula said: “It will be a close race, according to the polls. We’ll see if they are right on August 3. In the ANC we are very confident.”
Trailed by a local ANC candidate, Zuma met several residents in their homes and listened to their various grievances.
“Jacob Zuma has a great ability to connect with people and win support on the streets. This shouldn’t be underestimated,” said February.
The president has faced a chorus of demands to step down, notably over his use of public funds to upgrade his private residence and his refusal to obey a constitutional court order to repay the money.