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Rifts in South Africa's ANC test the party's vaunted unity

Nelson Mandela's party is struggling to assure poor South Africans that it can provide quality services.

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The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, which was so instrumental in overthrowing apartheid, is facing the most severe challenges yet to its decade-long dominance of South African politics and to its vaunted unity. But that, many observers say, is good news for democracy's evolution in a nation that wields so much influence across the rest of Africa.

The ANC's troubles include:

• In the country's sprawling slums (where it's not uncommon for some 200 people to share a single toilet) more than 900 protests have broken out in the past year - many of them violent - over lack of electricity, running water, and sewers. Most were aimed at local ANC officials, who are often accused of graft, indifference, or both.

• ANC stalwart and presidential aspirant Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption and deposed from his post as deputy president last year. His corruption trial is expected to begin in July. He's now on trial for rape. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated that Mr. Zuma had been convicted of corruption.]

• Despite winning a solid 64 percent of local wards across the country in last month's municipal elections, the ANC lost the mayor's post in high-profile Cape Town.

In a country that's been a virtual one-party state for 12 years, a number of factors are leading to what many see as an inevitable ANC split-up - and the start of a more robust democracy here.

"We're getting closer" to the time when the ANC breaks apart, says Patrick Laurence of The Helen Suzman Foundation here, which promotes democracy. A major reason is that "class is becoming increasingly important and is vying, in some situations, with race as the important cohesive factor" in South Africa.

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