Cape Town's complex politics

Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa explores political loyalties in Cape Town.


    The African National Congress party's control of South Africa's Western cape may be waning [AFP]

    It may be an understatement to say that politics in South Africa's Western Cape province are complex.

    Cape Town, the capital, is the economic hub of the Western Cape and is comprised of an eclectic mix of people from different walks of life – rich, poor and middle class.

    It has also been a magnet for tourists. 

    A little under 50 per cent of the Western Cape is comprised of mixed-race coloureds - black South Africans are next followed by the white and the Asian communities.
    The differences in living standards are mind-boggling. You get the leafy suburbs of Newlands with plush well-manicured lawns, glistening blue swimming pools and high walls.

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    There is also the fancy Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, situated between Robben Island and Table Mountain in the heart of Cape Town's working harbour, where all the tourists and moneyed Cape-tonians flock to the expensive restaurants and the shopping malls. 
    Then you have the Cape Flats - a predominantly poor and mixed race area plagued by high levels of unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse. 
    These are contrasted with the mainly black townships like Khayelitsha and Gugulethu - where the black majority live. Under apartheid the population were forced to live in squalor in shacks with no running water or electricity. They hoped their lives would have improved since 1994, but most say very little has changed. 
    This mish-mash of opinions, cultures and inequalities makes the Western Cape such a fascinating province - and every election the people here speak their mind, sometimes upsetting the political balance.
    Waning influence
    In 1994, when South Africa held its first democratic - and historic - elections, this province overwhelmingly voted for the Afrikaner National Party, the party in power during apartheid.
    At a time when most of South Africa's black majority voted in a new black government - for the first time in the country's history - the Western Cape chose not to go with the flow.
    Every election since has been different, with the 2004 elections seeing the African National Congress (ANC) given the majority. 

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    In this election, however, independent polls suggest that the ANC has lost the Western Cape. It will probably go to the Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition party.
    The question remains why the ANC's hold on the province is waning.
    Asanda Tungu, a 30-year-old man who lives in Khayelitsha, says it is because people in the Western Cape are frustrated.
    His family is still waiting for the free housing promised by the ANC 15 years ago. 
    He knows that the as the ruling party, the ANC - now led by Jacob Zuma - has built close to three million homes. But more than a million South Africans are still waiting for the free houses promised to them in 1994.
    Economic gap
    Deteriorating living conditions and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor has left some of the electorate disillusioned. Party infighting within the ANC and allegations of corruption may have also dented voter confidence.
    In December 2007, Zuma took over the ANC party leadership from, Thabo Mbeki, who in September 2008, resigned from the presidency. He had made enemies within the party and the Zuma camp of supporters wanted him out.  
    Tungu says it is time for the ANC to get its act together – but he is not waiting around until they do.
    So he will vote for the newly formed break-away faction Congress of the People (Cope), which was formed on the heels of the ANC infighting and Mbeki's resignation.
    This party started off with a bang nearly six months ago – but the momentum quickly fizzled out. It seems to have lost its 'new-kid-on-the-block' status.
    South Africa's 'Godzilla'
    But the ANC is no match for the DA, led by Cape Town mayor Helen Zille – Godzilla as she is affectionately called by her supporters. 

    Some voters have been disillusioned by an increased gap between rich and poor [AFP]

    They say she gets the job done – and is certainly a very charismatic woman. 
    The challenge before her, however, is that her party is largely seen as a white and coloured party. The black majority still do not trust that the DA has the interests of black people at heart. South Africans are still hung up on the legacy of apartheid - and right now many vote for race first instead of issues.
    Francis Moloyi, who works as a cleaner at the mall in Cape Town, says that even though she is disappointed in how the ANC has performed in the province she will vote ANC nonetheless.
    "It's a black people's party," she says of the ANC.
    "I know what it was like with a white party in power. We blacks suffered. Why would I put my family through that again?"
    Overlooked minority
    Her opinion probably echoes why the mixed-race, non-black population votes for the so-called white DA, the Independent Democrats, led by Patricia De Lille, or the other minority parties. 
    They say the ANC leadership has overlooked them and they feel more welcomed with the white or coloured parties.

    I have heard many say "We are not black enough in the new South Africa".
    I wonder what the ANC and the majority black South Africans think about this.
    As the Western Cape, and the rest of the country, go to the polls on Wednesday, it seems most people believe the ANC will lose the majority they once had. 
    It remains to be seen whether the party they vote into power in their province will deliver on campaign promises.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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