Workers across South Africa are celebrating the ruling African National Congress’ decisive victory in April 22 elections.
With about half the ballots counted, the ANC stands at 66 percent of the vote, sweeping all regions of the country.
The sole exception is the Western Cape, where a white-dominated opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is leading by a small percentage. The DA may end up ruling that renegade province alone or in an alliance with another party.
The rest of the country, stretching from desert areas around the Orange River to subtropical Zululand on the Indian Ocean coast, delivered a solid win to Jacob Zuma, the ANC’s leader and the next President of the Republic of South Africa.
At ANC headquarters in Johannesburg on April 23 night, supporters cheered Zuma as he danced in celebration and then declared, ‘We went to the voters of this country, talked to them and put across our polices, and they have understood what we are saying.’
In a blow to allies of former President Thabo Mbeki, the recently-formed party called the Congress of the People (COPE), led by a small group of defectors from the ANC, secured only 8 percent of the vote, according to early results.
Despite the corporate media’s preference for negative reporting on Africa, such as the recent obsession with piracy off the Somali coast and the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudan’s president, the world’s attention this week was focused on the peaceful and joyous elections in South Africa as millions of men and women stood in long lines waiting to cast their ballot.
Newspapers featured moving photos of blacks and whites, who less than two decades ago were strictly segregated by the violent system known as apartheid, voting together at polling stations. Websites posted video clips of famous anti-apartheid leaders dropping their ballots in election boxes. A frail former President Nelson Mandela, walking slowly with the aid of a cane, was greeting with shouts of “Viva Mandela!” at his polling station while Archbishop Desmond Tutu was visibly giddy after voting.
Voter turnout was high, estimated at 77 percent, in the fourth elections held in South Africa since the end of apartheid and return to majority rule in 1994.
Commentators have described these elections as the nation’s most competitive, mainly because of controversies surrounding Zuma stemming from past rape and corruption allegations.
The ANC leader was acquitted of rape charges in April 2006 and only two weeks ago the corruption case against him was completely dismissed by the nation’s chief prosecutor. The prosecutors’ investigation revealed that Zuma’s political opponents manipulated and interfered with the case hoping to derail his presidential campaign.
While the opposition has threatened to push to reinstate corruption charges against Zuma, the South African people have spoken in a loud and unified voice at the polls in support of their new President.
Most South Africans identify with Zuma, whose life story is similar to their own. Born in 1942, just six years before the formal institution of apartheid, Zuma was raised by his widowed mother who worked as a maid.
Like most South Africans under apartheid, Zuma was unable to attend school but he taught himself how to read and write. When he turned 17, he joined Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC.
After spending 10 years imprisoned with Mandela and other anti-apartheid leaders on the infamous Robben Island, Zuma went into exile in Mozambique and Zambia. He rose to a position in the ANC executive committee and returned to South Africa when the party was un-banned in 1990.
After voting in his hometown Wednesday, Zuma observed ‘Never did I think as I was growing up here that one day I would cast my vote here as I am doing. It must be great, feeling the difference from the olden days to where we are today, when we can decide our own fate.’
While Zuma is often described as a “traditionalist” who strongly identifies with his Zulu ethnic background, his revolutionary credentials as a liberation fighter and the early influence of an uncle active in the trade unions place him firmly on the political left.
In fact, beyond his own party base, his strongest support in the campaign came from the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which form the ruling Tripartite Alliance with the ANC.
South Africa continues to face many challenges, most a legacy of the decades of underdevelopment and inequality under apartheid. Unemployment is rampant, many South Africans lack decent housing and access to water, and the AIDs epidemic continues. The Tripartite Alliance has made significant progress tackling these problems over the past 15 years and its accomplishments clearly were endorsed by voters this week.
In a message issued during the final days of the campaign, SACP General Secretary Blade Nzimande declared the party “calls upon all our people, especially the workers and the poor, to come out in massive numbers to vote for the ANC and ensure an overwhelming ANC victory in the elections.”
South Africans heeded that call and look forward to continued progressive leadership by the ANC and its communist and trade unionist allies. Official results are not expected until this weekend but Zuma is expected to be sworn in as the new president in early May.