ANC Looks Set to Retain Large Majority

By Robyn Dixon
(c) 2009, Los Angeles Times

DIEPSLOOT, South Africa -- South Africans queued before dawn in chilly temperatures Wednesday for an election expected to slightly narrow the African National Congress' large parliamentary majority yet still result in the installation of controversial party leader Jacob Zuma as president.

A large voter turnout was reported, and in some areas election officials ran short of ballot papers and had to call for more. Voting results were expected Thursday.

Corruption charges against Zuma were dropped two weeks ago. Despite his extraordinary political comeback, the ANC faces its toughest challenge since it took control in 1994 in the nation's first democratic vote. Many South Africans are disillusioned by continuing high unemployment, crime and a lack of decent housing.

For the first time, the ANC faced a sizable black opposition party in this election: the Congress of the People, or COPE, which was formed by former ANC members. The other major opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, or DA, is led by a white woman, Helen Zille.

In South Africa, the parliament elects the president, so Zuma is expected to be voted into office early next month.

For some voters, the early euphoria of democracy has faded.

"Actually, I don't know why I'm voting," said Victoria Jonathon, 27, who waited hours to cast her ballot. "I'm still staying in a shack. That makes me very angry."

She voted for the ANC but said it would be the last time unless there was real change before the next national election."I don't see change in five years, no change, I won't vote ANC again. I'll vote for someone else."

Gigi Mafifi, 33, an insurance salesman, said he usually voted ANC but decided this time to cast his ballot in favor of a small opposition party.

"The quicker the small parties grow, the better it is for South Africa," he said. "I haven't got anything against the ANC and COPE, but I think they need to be shaken up. We need to shock them a bit.

"Once the ANC doesn't have the majority in the parliament, they'll start to listen."

In contrast, Solomon Mapheto, 59, a pensioner, said he would always vote ANC.

"I voted ANC because they stopped apartheid. I don't see any other party for me but the ANC."

The ANC won 69.9 percent of the vote in the 2004 elections. Opinion polls indicated that it was likely to receive two-thirds of the vote this time -- slightly less, but still above the critical level required for it to change the constitution at will. The DA's election campaign slogan, "Stop Zuma," urged voters to deprive the ANC of a two-thirds majority.

ANC dominance remained clear among voters in deprived townships such as Diepsloot. .

But some were shunning the party for the first time, such as Siyanda Sdlulene, 28, who said, "They don't do all the promises they said they will do. I voted for COPE. I hope that maybe things will change." Sdlulene, who fixes tires and earns about $260 a month, said, "People are walking around with guns, shooting people for no reason. I'd like to have a better job, and to have security. And some more building of houses and infrastructure."

Most of the poor and jobless reflexively vote ANC "because they believe in Nelson Mandela," he said, referring to South Africa's first democratically elected president. "They see him as their hero, and I think that's why they vote ANC."

Edigan Malale, 29, said that when he wore his DA T-shirt around the township, he was abused and jeered by residents who derided DA as a white party.

"It's mostly black people around Helen Zille as the leader," he said. "So that brings in hope." Away from the dusty streets and shacks of Diepsloot, in the distant upscale neighborhood of Killarney, Mandela's supporters waited hours for a glimpse of him as he arrived to vote amid cheers and ululating.

Hundreds of people with cameras crowded onto a terrace to photograph the man who has come to personify South Africa's struggle against apartheid. Frail and stooped, he was so thickly flanked by party officials that a group of elderly supporters couldn't see the face they'd waited for.

After voting, he left the polling station, beaming at the cameras.

Another iconic elder statesman who fought apartheid and served as chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Nobel laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, voted in Cape Town. He recently said he was not looking forward to having Zuma as president.

Tutu said Wednesday that people had tended to vote ANC automatically in the past but that that was changing.

"I feel good, but it isn't like the previous elections. That is true of so many people who are having to ask questions. It's good for democracy," he said.

Zuma was charged with corruption in 2005 in connection with a multibillion-dollar arms deal. In 2006, he was acquitted of rape charges. Prosecutors recently dropped the 2005 corruption charges, citing outside interference in the timing of charges.

Marlyn Abrams, a white psychologist voting in Killarney, was concerned about the charges being dropped.

"I think he (Zuma) is a bit of a disaster. He's a buffoon, unintelligent, populist. He has avoided facing it (the corruption trial). He's avoided clearing himself, although he said he wanted to."

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