February 27, 2006

S.Africa’s ANC heads for poll win despite concern

By Gershwin Wanneburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling ANC looks
set to overcome growing public anger over poor services, graft
and its own internal divisions to secure another sweeping
victory in Wednesday's local government elections, analysts

With the opposition limited to narrow campaigns along race
or class lines, the anti-apartheid party once led by Nelson
Mandela appears to be keeping its hold -- for now -- on South
African voter loyalty.

Several townships across the country have erupted in
violence over poor service delivery or corruption, while the
sacking of popular deputy president Jacob Zuma in a graft row
last year has alienated other voters.

"Despite these conducive conditions ... the (elections
will) reflect on the bottom-line a continued strong showing by
the ANC," analyst Susan Booysen, a professor at Witwatersrand
University, wrote in daily The Star.

The African National Congress clinched about 60 percent of
the vote in the last elections in 2000 and controls all six
major cities -- including the tourist haven Cape Town, the
commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has failed to
move away from its image as a party driven by middle class
white interests with support mainly around Cape Town. The ANC's
biggest black rival, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), has been
unable to establish itself beyond its Zulu tribal base in
KwaZulu-Natal province.


Media reports suggest the ANC could find its power reduced
in urban areas and only edging up in traditional rural
strongholds. A survey commissioned by the Sunday Times showed
voters were very unhappy with a slow pace of service delivery.

Although improved roads and rail links, provision of water
and electricity to more than a half of South Africans since the
end of apartheid outdoes by far any other government service
programs in the rest of Africa, millions still have no access
to basic amenities.

Government officials say a gaping skills shortage has
hampered faster delivery, leaving millions of rands unspent
because of lack of manpower to implement projects.

But analysts say it is too soon for the black majority to
abandon the party that ended apartheid in 1994.

Even in the volatile township of Khutsong south of
Johannesburg, where residents have clashed with police for
months in a quarrel over delivery, residents would rather see
the vote called off than abandon the ANC.

Violence in Khutsong and clashes between the ANC and the
opposition Inkhatha Freedom Party on Sunday prompted President
Thabo Mbeki to urge deployment of more police or the army in
the affected areas to restore peace.

The country's highest court on Monday turned down an appeal
by Khutsong community members to suspended the ballot, together
with a similar application by residents from the Matatiele
municipality in the impoverished Eastern Cape province.

Both groups had protested over government plans to shift
provincial boundaries, which they feared would leave them worse
off in poorer neighboring provinces. They asked the
Constitutional Court to suspend the poll to give them time to
contest the legal grounds of the moves.

South Africa has acknowledged that it has to address the
urgent needs of its people and is looking to import brains from
India and New Zealand to help it fill the skills gap. Other
African countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe -- which are
overflowing with educated but jobless professionals -- are
known to be seeking to compete in the space.

Mbeki himself has been relaxed on the campaign trail. On
Sunday, he removed his campaign T-Shirt to hand to a supporter,
drawing loud cheers as he faced his fans bare-chested.

(Additional reporting by Manoah Esipisu)