Nelson Mandela boosts Zuma at final ANC campaign rally
South Africa's ruling party candidate, Jacob Zuma, vows no constitutional changes ahead of April 22 vote.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Nelson Mandela has always been a hard act to follow.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
At an African National Congress (ANC) rally today, ahead of Wednesday's elections, the former president of South Africa and famous political prisoner sparked cheers among the tens of thousands of ANC supporters assembled.
His role at the rally – as it was when Mr. Mandela was the first post-apartheid president – was to reassure South Africans that the ANC government would stand for reconciliation and peace, as well as correcting historic injustices.
In a pre-recorded message broadcast at the stadium, the elder statesman reminded ANC voters what their party stood for.
"As we strive to secure a decisive victory for our organisation in the upcoming elections, we must remember our primary task. It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all," Mandela said.
But unlike the elections of 1994 that made Mandela the first black president of South Africa, the elections on April 22 will be one of the most competitive in the post-apartheid South Africa's brief history.
In past elections, the ANC stood like a colossus over its smaller rivals – from the mainly white liberal Democratic Alliance to the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party to the conservative Afrikaner party, the Freedom Front Plus. But this time, the ballot will give voters the chance to vote for a party that shares the ANC's strong "liberation" credentials, but less of the ANC's negative baggage.
The recent emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) – made up mainly of former ANC party members loyal to former South African President Thabo Mbeki – has been greeted as a dramatic shift in South African politics, and the first sign that the ANC, the party of Mandela, may face a real competition for the liberal, poor, and working class voting majority who have supported them in the past.
"This is the first election where these seems a possibility the ANC vote will drop," says Steven Friedman, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa, a think tank in Tshwane, as Pretoria is now called. "The ANC may lose the Western Cape, and the ANC may lose the two-thirds majority it has had since 1994. And while they will still be in power, that means it will have to work for the vote far more than it ever has."
The honeymoon's over
Whatever the results of the 2009 elections, it's clear from the public mood that the ANC's post-liberation honeymoon is over.