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South Africa election: Why some poor black voters may ditch the ANC this time

Failure to deliver basic services has debased the once-vaunted party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) may lose some municipalities in Wednesday's local elections.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer, Savious KwinikaCorrespondent / May 17, 2011

Supporters of the ruling African National Congress rally outside a Cape Town courthouse ahead of the May 18 ballot.

Mike Hutchings/Reuters

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Johannesburg, South Africa

Since South Africa's black majority finally won their freedom from the white apartheid regime 17 years ago, most blacks have voted reliably for the African National Congress (ANC). But ahead of Wednesday's municipal elections, voters in a number of poor black townships say they may ditch the once-vaunted party of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela – even if that means voting for the white-run Democratic Alliance (DA).

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"I would have wanted to vote for the black-administered government, but I don't eat patriotism," says Miyetani Kuzumuka, a voter in the Alexandra township in northern Johannesburg. "The ruling party has taken us for granted too long, yet no service delivery is worthy of talking about in our poverty-stricken townships."

This year, Mr. Kuzumuka says his entire family will try a new political party.

"I do think there is growing disenchantment, directed at the national leadership and the political class of the ANC in general," says Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg. "But the thing is not about whether the garbage crisis or the billing crisis is resolved. It's about 'These [ANC leaders] don't care about us.' "

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu says voters should keep things in perspective.

"Yes, there are problems of unemployment, health care, and poor education, but we have a huge responsibility at hand in providing service delivery to more than 50 million South Africans as opposed to the former apartheid regime that only catered [to] a few white people," he says, adding that the ANC has only been in power for 17 years, while the former apartheid regime had ruled since the 17th century.

Sheluzani Baloyi of the Diepsloot township, however, is not buying it. The mother of three said she has been patient enough with the ANC since 1994, but now "it's time to think out of the box."

The ANC talks about uplifting the black community through affirmative-action programs, she says, but the "Black Economic Empowerment [program] is only benefiting those that surround the president, including their families, while the ... nation is languishing in ... poverty."

Bekezela Tshabalala of Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg, says he is hearing good things about the DA, which has won praise for its governance of Cape Town and the Western Cape Province.

"If what is happening in Cape Town is anything to go by, then the DA are likely to get my vote," says Mr. Tshabalala. But he still has doubts about the DA, because many of its senior members supported apartheid.

DA spokeswoman Lindiwe Mazibuko says her party is giving the ANC a run for its money.

"Our record is there for everyone to see" in Cape Town, says Ms. Mazibuko. "This time, the DA, under Helen Zille will steal a few municipalities from ANC."

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