Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
South African boys stand Tuesday beside a wall mural portraying Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress party, in Guguletu township on the outskirts of Cape Town. On Wednesday, the country goes to the polls for national elections, which the ANC is favored to win.
South African boys stand Tuesday beside a wall mural portraying Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress party, in Guguletu township on the outskirts of Cape Town. On Wednesday, the country goes to the polls for national elections, which the ANC is favored to win. Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images
South Africa holds national elections Wednesday, and among those casting ballots will be voters who were toddlers when South Africans won black majority rule. They have only ever known a free South Africa, and they don't necessarily share the majority's loyalty to the African National Congress.
At the same time, the ruling ANC is facing its first real challenge since 1994 from former ANC members who say the party has failed to live up to its promises.
The ANC's challengers include the Congress of the People — or COPE — a new party that is expected to make inroads among this year's new voters, known colloquially as "the born frees."
At the University of the Witwatersrand, the elections are on the minds of many students on the colonnaded campus.
Eager To Vote
"I'm ecstatic," says Mahmood Dauood Omar, 18, a South African pre-law student of Indian origin. "I can't wait to vote."
Omar says he plans to vote for COPE because he doesn't think the ANC has delivered on its promises; he also doesn't think the party has the talent to deal with the global economic crisis with its candidate, Jacob Zuma, as the country's president.
"I don't think they can do that, not in a million years," Omar says.
Zuma's Past An Issue
Zuma was tried for raping an HIV-positive woman in 2005. Though acquitted, he was widely lampooned for testifying that he took a shower to protect himself from contracting the AIDS virus.
And the case clearly is an issue for some voters, including 18-year-old Ismail Essop, a freshman pharmacy major.
"I don't think he'd be a good president because he thinks if you take a bath you won't have AIDS anymore. How could a man like that run our country?" Essop says.
Essop, also ethnic Indian, says he will vote for the predominantly white Democratic Alliance, South Africa's official opposition party, which has made strides to be more racially inclusive.
'Fight For The People?'
Leandre Heslop, 21, a mixed-race South African, is voting for the first time. Known as "colored" in South Africa, mixed-race people were a minority that was discriminated against under apartheid, but were allowed more privileges than blacks. She is voting for the first time, but not for the ANC.
"They did what they did back in the day, but what they stood for then is not what they're standing for now. It's a party fighting among themselves. How can they fight for the people?" Heslop says.
Iphendulwe Xothani, who is black and is majoring in civil engineering, says she admires Nelson Mandela, the iconic rights activist who served as the first black president from 1994 to '99. But the 18-year-old says she will probably vote for COPE.
"It's got nothing to do with Mandela. I'm just moving away from the fact that they are pioneers. I'm headed toward what the future has to hold for me. I'm going to vote for someone that's promising me a better future," Xothani says.
ANC Appeals To Some
But elsewhere on campus, more than a dozen black students playing cards say they all support Zuma and the ANC.
Ntokozo Mthembene, a political science major, speaks for the group and talks about the simple fact that they — black students — are students at Witwatersrand. College registration for black students was restricted during much of the apartheid era.
"We are here because of the ANC. ... Obviously, ANC all the way," he says.
As for his own future, Mthembene, says he is going to graduate — and work for the ANC.