Polls opened today at 7:00 (05:00GMT) in South Africa and are due to close 14 hours later with full result expected before Friday. These are the first elections since the death of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president who died December 2013. This year also marks 20 years since the end of white-minority rule and South Africans had their first democratic elections held. For the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), these are delicate times due to quite a number of factors working against them; Mandela’s death, Jacob Zuma’s controversial presidency, formation of new political parties (such as former ANC youth leader Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters EFF), prevalent poverty in the townships, unemployment and dissatisfaction of the “born frees” i.e. those born after the end of apartheid in 1994.

Although the ANC has tried as a party since it came into power by lowering inflation, improving the population of black in South African universities, building 1.4 million houses in the townships which has sheltered more than 4.5 million people, there still exists a major dissatisfaction given that unemployment rate is higher that it was in 1994 and the inequality gap between the rich and the poor remains alarmingly wide. The “presence” of Mandela may have helped in managing and patching this discontent but now that madiba is gone, South Africans will definitely begin to learn how to make un-sentimental decisions.

It is projected that ANC should win more than 60% of the vote, but according to the polls the deep seated disaffection with the country’s leadership may give to the Democratic Alliance (DA), the main challenger, more votes than the ANC cares to lose. Now that Mandela is gone, and the ANC has evidently neutered the political and economic legacy of Mandela and along with it the global goodwill towards post-apartheid South Africa, the stage is set for a change in the political system of South Africa. Sooner than later the “Mandela sympathy /grief” effect will wear off and political parties will have to earn their place. However, it is most likely that despite the widespread dissatisfaction, there will be more of sympathy votes in accordance with the “do it for Madiba” campaign strategy of the ANC.

But, even if  the ANC emerges as the winner, which is most likely, then the party will have a five-year long term without the” Mandela factor” to either redeem itself or further deepen its decline  in the changing political atmosphere of South Africa. Whichever way, the next twenty years may not depend on “Mandela” but will be largely determined by which party tackles the issues of corruption, unemployment and poverty.

Written by O. Obaremi

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