South Africa prepares for elections

Election race heats up in Western Cape

The upcoming South African general election on 7 May marks the nation's 20th year as a democracy and is being viewed as a potential crossroads situation by political observers.

Crucially, it is the first election since the death of the inaugural post-apartheid president and South African father figure Nelson Mandela whose African National Congress (ANC) party has dominated the nation's politics since 1994.

Ahead of the upcoming election, the ANC has been working hard to win over the electorate in the Western Cape, the only province in the country not in its control. Senior ANC figures including South African president Jacob Zuma have been engaged in extensive electioneering in an attempt to oust the main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) which has been in power in the Western Cape since 2009.

The DA is now in full battle mode against the ruling ANC, support for which could fall below 60 per cent for the first time in this year's general election, according to some commentators.

Opponents of the ANC accuse it of complacency, corruption, cronyism and poor service delivery under its current leadership. Cape Town's influential archbishop, Desmond Tutu, was recently quoted by the local Sunday Times as saying he was glad that Mandela and other ANC freedom fighters were not alive to witness the country’s current state.

The ANC has accepted its opponents' criticism and acknowledged the need to improve its performance. However it also points to its successful record over the last 20 years in overturning much of the social imbalance left over from the apartheid regime.

The DA highlights its own track record of good governance, service delivery and, perhaps most importantly, its clean bill of health in the annual auditor general reports. The latest available reports are from 2012 and reveal that out of South Africa’s 278 municipalities, only nine had clean audits, and three of these were under the DA’s control in the Western Cape. This is in contrast to the record of the ANC whose Western Cape leader Marius Fransman is currently facing an investigation by the provincial public accounts committee into irregularities and mismanagement of public funds dating back to 2003.

Both sides have levelled accusations at each during recent political rallies in Cape Town. The DA leader in the Western Cape, Ivan Meyer, accused the ANC of being in receipt of funds from a prominent business man with shady links, a charge the party denies. The ANC's Fransman accused DA leader Helen Zille, the provincial premier and former mayor of Cape Town, of racism and presiding over a two-tier society in the Western Cape where, he said, white people remained privileged while the black community was left poor.

President Zuma has weighed in too, describing the Western Cape as “an unfortunate province” whose people need to liberate themselves from the DA.

In addition to electing a new national assembly, the 7 May polls involve new provincial legislatures in each of the nine provinces. South Africa's president will be chosen by the national assembly after the election, and the premiers of each province will be chosen by the winning majority in each provincial legislature.