by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – THE last time a South African head of state was booed, it heralded the end of the controversy-prone presidency of Jacob Zuma.
He was eventually forced out in 2018 after pressure from the public and within his factionalised African National Congress (ANC) grouping.
Zuma, who was in power from 2009, was initially booed by a section of the crowd attending the memorial service of independent South Africa’s first president, Nelson Mandela, at the FNB Stadium in 2013.
A year later, he was given another hostile reception at the same venue when some fans booed him after a football match between his country and Brazil.
Some ANC supporters blamed him for the party’s waning support while concerned South Africans were disgusted at the corruption scandals and personal controversies around him.
If the recent booing of President Cyril Ramaphosa is anything to go by, torrid times lie ahead for the current leader, starting with upcoming polls.
With what is expected to be the most-fiercely contested elections on the horizon since the advent of democracy in 1994, prospects of the ruling ANC are gloomy.
The continent’s oldest liberation movement, 109 this year, faces the greatest threat to its stranglehold on power when South Africans vote in the sixth Local Government elections scheduled for 1 November.
The run-up to the elections has been messy for both Ramaphosa and his party.
He was recently booed – twice in as many weeks – underlining the ANC’s precarious position.
In mid-September, the Naledi community in the largely impoverished Soweto west of Johannesburg, jeered Ramaphosa as he mobilised residents to register for the polls.
Residents were enraged by poor service delivery and lack of electricity.
It was more of the same at the end of September when some angry residents in Kathlehong, east of Johannesburg, heckled the president as he launched a new COVID-19 vaccination site.
There is anger over the rolling power outages in the area.
“Our leaders only emerge when it’s time to canvass for our votes,” resident, Sicelo Ndaba told CAJ News Africa.
“Once they get our votes they disappear and we are left to suffer poor service delivery. So many promises are made during campaigns but little is delivered,” the resident said.
Allen Mudau, another resident, was scathing.
“We are tired of thieves and promises,” he lambasted.
Ramaphosa’s attack was in reference to the corruption scandals that continue plaguing the ruling party beyond the infamous State Capture era of the Zuma administration.
Graft has escalated during the COVID-19 response. Some of Ramaphosa’s inner circle, including ex-health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, have been fingered.
Khusela Diko, the former presidential spokesperson, was also linked to COVID-19 graft but has since been cleared.
The official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is reveling at the fading fortunes of the president and his party.
“Beyond booing Ramaphosa, it is time to vote out his party (ANC) at the ballot box,” said Refiloe Nt’sekhe, DA Mayoral candidate for Ekurhuleni, under which Kathlehong falls.
Natasha Mazzone, DA Chief Whip, stated, “Election 2021 stands to be the moment of reckoning for the ANC, as voters use the polls to boo the ANC out of office in cities and towns throughout South Africa.”
ANC lost control of the metropolitan cities including the capital Pretoria, the economic hub Johannesburg and the iconic Nelson Mandela Bay.
It performed dismally in the Western Cape, a DA stronghold, as has been the case since the advent of majority rule.
ANC’s overall share of the vote decreased from 62,93 percent in 2011 to 55,6 percent (38,5 million South Africans voted in total) amid growing discontent regarding the state of the country’s economy and perceived corruption.
Ramaphosa conceded that citizens often complained that in the lead up to elections, ward councillors, candidates and officials interacted with communities and pledged to address their concerns.
“However, once elections have passed, they either disappear or it becomes difficult to reach them,” the president conceded.
During Freedom Day celebrations in April, the president said, “Communities must use their vote to deal with councillors with poor track records of meeting their promises.”
ANC’s preparations for the polls have been awkward, apparently because of infighting.
The ruling party failed to register candidates in 94 municipalities around the country due to internal disorganisation.
The cash-strapped governing party is also contending with staff protesting against non-payment of salaries for months.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has been under fire from opposition parties after reopening the candidate nomination process for the elections.
Nominations have since closed, on September 21. The initial cut-off date was August 23.
Rival parties, including the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) formed in 2013 by youth expelled from the ANC, Julius Malema, accused the IEC of favouring the governing party by extending the nominations.
Apart from disgruntlement among citizens, tensions of rival factions within the ruling party spilling to the courts, corruption and the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the continent South Africa is going through a lean economic spell characterised by record unemployment.
Unemployment has hit a record high of 34,4 percent. This in a country with some of the most social disparities in the world.
South Africa is also emerging from the worst social unrest post-independence.
More than 300 people died during days of looting and vandalism that followed the arrest of Zuma (79), for contempt of court in July.
He was released on medical parole last month.
This week, speaking for the first time since his release, posted a video online urging South Africans to vote for the ANC.
An Afrobarometer Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Scorecard in September showed South Africa has made progress on climate action but lost ground on poverty, hunger, and perceived corruption in institutions.
IEC reported that over 1,7 million voters registered during the special two-day registration weekend, which took place from September 18 to 19.
Youth aged 16-29 accounted for 91 percent of the new registrations, with 52 percent of all new registrations being female voters.
An opinion poll by Ipsos indicated countrywide 49,3 percent of South African will vote ANC. Support for both the DA (17,9 percent) and the EFF (14,5 percent) is also in double figures.
– CAJ News