February 21, 2006

Mbeki campaigns in Cape Town battleground

By Gordon Bell

MACASSAR, South Africa (Reuters) - On the face of it
President Thabo Mbeki was having a great time as he took his
ruling ANC's campaign for March 1 local elections to poor
townships of South Africa's Western Cape on Tuesday.

Residents of this mixed-race township outside Cape Town
mobbed Mbeki as he walked through the streets, but many others
were grumbling loudly about poor municipal services.

Complaints over lack of or deteriorating basic services
have dogged Mbeki's African National Congress in the run-up to
South Africa's third municipal vote. The grumbling has reached
a crescendo in the highly cosmopolitan Western Cape in
particular this week after a spate of power blackouts in the
tourist haven.

The ANC is widely expected to keep its massive majority
across the country as millions of poor black voters stay loyal
to the party that ended apartheid more than a decade ago.

But a tight race looks certain in Cape Town, home to a
large white and Afrikaans-speaking colored (mixed-race)
community in which support for the former liberation movement
is mixed.

The battle for the country's top tourist city -- home to
the national parliament -- has been heightened by widespread
discontent about housing backlogs and poor basic services.

"Our community is going down because of all sorts of
problems, especially drugs. Children steal money from their
parents to buy drugs," moans 63-year-old Annie Dew, as she
waits for Mbeki's motorcade to arrive outside a one-bedroom

"When is he going to prove to us that he is going to do
something?," she asks in her native Afrikaans.


Protests last year over lack of amenities, inefficient
public services and lack of jobs in Cape Town's townships and
elsewhere led to some of the worst riots in black
municipalities since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is hoping
to reclaim the city it lost control of in 2002.

Highlighting what it says is the failure of ANC-controlled
municipalities to provide basic services, the DA is urging
especially white and colored voters to unite the opposition.

The colored vote is crucial for both parties, with the
community making up more than half of the city's population.

The DA hopes it can win back the votes it lost when the New
National Party (NNP) broke from its ranks and jumped to the
ANC, taking with it 32 seats in the 200 member city council.

Together with the NNP, the DA claimed 52 percent of the
poll in 2000, but the defections, that have now seen the former
apartheid party merged into the government, gave the ANC an
outright majority.

It is unclear whether the NNP voters, in the past largely
white and colored Afrikaans speakers, will support the ANC in
this year's poll.

A newcomer to the political scene, the Independent
Democrats, led by fiery Cape Town politician Patricia de Lille,
could take a chunk of the colored vote from the DA,
strengthening the ANC's hand.

Mbeki appeared to hit the right notes in Macassar,
promising to tackle the gang-ridden community's problems --
joblessness, a lack of housing, and drug barons enticing
children to crime.

John Ross Laubsher, 18, complains he cannot find a job and
worries about his future in a township full of youths eager to
improve their lives.

"We are struggling ... I am not receiving any help," he

Despite their complaints, Laubsher and Dewee promise to
vote for the ANC but others, watching from afar as Mbeki speaks
to a small gathering on a dusty street, shake their heads.

"They come here every election and they do nothing," said a
uniformed policewoman, bemused by the loud applause and cheers.