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South Africa Elections: Will The Governing African National Congress Hold Power?


There are elections in South Africa Wednesday, and they may be tough for the governing African National Congress. The party is campaigning on the slogan, a better life for all. But there are allegations of rampant corruption under former President Jacob Zuma, and it's all happening close to the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's history-making election and the end of apartheid.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in Johannesburg, and she joins us. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are the stakes there? Just an embarrassment for the ANC or could there be some kind of sea change in South Africa?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, the polls don't predict a sea change. But what President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Jacob Zuma as president last year, is under pressure to do is reverse the slide in support for the governing ANC. And this has been happening over years. And as you've said, the corruption allegations, what the South Africans here call state capture - this was one business family in particular, the Guptas. And it's come to our knowledge that other people also were trying to influence the government.

The Gupta family, two of the brothers said even to be appointing Cabinet ministers under Jacob Zuma. They deny these allegations. But all this has tarnished the image of the governing ANC. So President Ramaphosa is having to deal with that whilst having to try and hold on to especially the urban areas of South Africa, some of whom are not so keen on the ANC anymore, as we've seen in previous elections.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How is the economy there doing? I mean, how is South Africa doing?

QUIST-ARCTON: As you know, South Africa of course is the second-biggest economy in Africa. It's also the most industrialized economy, Lulu. And yet, despite financial services, trade, tourism, mining of course, a robust informal sector worth millions of dollars, South Africans feel they are struggling and that the governing party has not lived up to the expectations of the ANC's mantra of a better life for all.

So this is part of the problem - not just the political problems; but because of the economic uncertainty and a decline in mining production, South Africans are feeling vulnerable. And they want a better life. And that's not just the majority black South Africans but all South Africans - because, of course, this is what Archbishop Desmond Tutu named the rainbow nation under Mandela. Many people feel that it has not lived up to that expectation at all.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, it's striking to think that it was only 25 years ago when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president in that historic moment. What are people feeling about that? What has changed since then?

QUIST-ARCTON: There was such hope - the formal end of apartheid, which was killing South Africa. Nelson Mandela was in jail, as well as other struggle leaders, for quarter of a century plus. South Africans, those who came into existence, who were born around the time of the end of apartheid, are now - what? - 25 plus. And yet, you get young South Africans who feel that they are not invested in the future of this country.

We're told that young South Africans, who make up a majority of eligible voters, have not registered to take part in Wednesday's elections. You know, this raises concerns about voter apathy, about people feeling that South Africa - everybody felt invested all over the world in South Africa at the end of apartheid, when Nelson Mandela came to power, but that somehow this country has not lived up to those expectations. And even the young people are saying, what's the point of us voting? Youth unemployment is so high. We may go and study, but what future do we have here?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Johannesburg. Ofeibia, thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Lulu. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.